Take the time

I know that much has been said on this subject before, but to be honest, I have a gripe and I want to let it out.

I went to the supermarket the other day and the check-out chick (sorry, the register operator?) was a nice enough girl, she was trying to do the right thing I’m sure, but she wasn’t. She was asking all the right questions, but she wasn’t listening to my answers.

‘How has your day been?’ she asked. And I started to tell her. I had quite a funny story to tell, that would have made her day, brightened her afternoon. I wanted to tell her that I’d gone into work, despite it being a public holiday, and I’d given an online tutorial. And all the way through the tutorial I’d said things like ‘for those watching the recording…’ or ‘I’ll go through this quickly, it will be on the recording’ and right at the end of the hour, I realised as I said goodbye to the students, that I hadn’t pressed record. There was no recording.

As I started to tell my highly amusing (ok, mildly amusing) anecdote, I looked at the girl, her eyes had glazed over. She was no longer listening. I think I stopped talking after telling her I’d gone into work.

So we were quiet, and she tried again.

‘Doing anything special for Australia Day?’

Now I had all sorts of interesting things to say about that. I could have discussed the conversation that was happening among my Facebook friends about whether there was a reason to celebrate Australia Day or not. I could have talked about the fact that we’d just come back from Adelaide a couple of days before and how the public holiday meant that I only had a two-day work week. But once again, she wasn’t listening. I gave up. I am not that much a fan of my own voice.

I don’t mind quiet at the register. I think I would have preferred quietness over this almost conversation.

She brightened up a bit when the supervisor told her she could close the register. I asked ‘is that it for you?’ ‘No,’ she said ‘I’m going until 530pm’ it was the most conversation we’d had. We were almost connecting there for a minute.

I had the same thing happen at a conference once. The professor had asked a question at the end of a presentation, and it pertained to my field of research. Stupidly, I thought he’d asked the question because he wanted to know the answer, so I sought him out in the break to further elucidate the quick answer that had been given by the student giving the presentation. But he didn’t want to know. He shared in-jokes with the man standing with us, rather than listen to what I had to say.

I must admit, I like being heard, and like most people, I hate being overlooked. And so I am as guilty of not listening as the next person. I usually want to be listened to, not to take the time to listen to others.

I think that listening, truly listening, is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another. Listening to understand – not listening to build our own argument, or rehearsing our own story while waiting for a chance to get a word in, or making conversation on automatic. Everybody has a story to tell, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find when you take the time to listen.

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