We South Africans speak more than we listen.
We hear your story as background noise while compiling our own tale of bigger tribulation to trump yours. Often our story bears little relationship to yours.
The best we can offer someone is time. Time to think. Time to grieve. Time to dream. Time to speak. Time to share. Without interruption. Without judgement.
I notice this in Norway. Norwegians tend to listen. Or at least, offer a superb facsimile of listening. When they respond it’s almost never with their own story. Rather it’s with a sympathetic grunt. And then they sit next to you in companionable silence. Thinking about how best to continue the discussion. Or maybe, just about fishing. But that silence is worth infinitely more than their suggestion on how to solve a problem that often is not solvable, as most issues of the heart are.
I talk a lot. It’s the nature of my business. When you’re on stage people are paying to listen to you. There’s not much time to listen to them.
That makes it difficult when talking to somebody on the phone, for instance, because they too pay me for my time. In theory, that means I should deliver answers. Talk, in other words.
Not so. More than anything else they pay for the questions I ask and the time I invest in listening carefully to their answers. The more I talk, the less effective the results. The more I listen, the more effective. And the nicer for the person on the other side.
One of my favourite books is “The Zen of Listening”. It’s written by Rebecca Shafir. My paperback copy is falling apart. I bought it in 2000, and it’s one of the few physical books I have left from the 40 boxes of books I travelled with for a few years.
Until Mrs Carruthers suggested that her 12 suitcases of clothes, dating back to her 12th birthday, needed priority. By then the Kindle app had arrived and I transferred the important books to my iPad.
This book offers a wealth of solid guidance on how to listen to understand rather than just hearing the words. Great advice for anyone in selling, as well.
We South Africans listen just to offer perspective, advice, and insight. Not because we want to hear our children, or our friends, or even our parents. With our parents it may just be revenge for them never listening to us.
Bottom line, in an age where we do not have enough time for ourselves, giving somebody the gift of our time, just listening to their story or the complaint or whatever they want to say, paying attention to their mood, their feelings, the words they use, their pain, is a rare gift.
And listening without trying to trump their story with our own? Priceless.