I find great joy every Sunday morning in listening to the New York Times crossword puzzle editor and NPR’s Puzzlemaster Will Shortz. Will is an American puzzle creator and editor, and I think it is fascinating that he is the only person known to hold a college degree in enigmatology (enigma tology), which is the study of puzzles. Who knew you could go to college for that?
Well, anyway, I play along when he presents the on-air quiz to one lucky contestant and then gives a challenge for those of us listening at home. Sometimes I can figure out the puzzle and sometimes I have no clue what the puzzle answer will be, and that’s when I’m glad that the NPR host helps the hapless player who is connected to the show by phone. A few weeks ago on the show, Will did a series of anagrams.
An anagram is when you rearrange letters to make different words, using the same letters. So the definition of the word Anagram (n.): a word, phrase, or sentence formed from another by rearranging its letters: “Angel” is an anagram of “glean.”
So when I was thinking about my show this week and what I wanted to work on, the word that kept coming to mind was listen, and then it hit me that listen and silent are an anagram; they have the same letters, but creating different words, and what is interesting is that these two words (in my opinion) have the same value when it comes to their true meaning.
Alfred Brendel has a famous poster that says, “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters – coincidence? I don’t think so.”
I do find it interesting that those two words are so closely aligned, and when I came across this quote from Rachel Naomi Remen, it really hit home for me. She says this:
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention… A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”
The power of listening is probably one of the most underrated skills we learn as kids. Everyone wants to talk and be heard, but it seems to me that so few know how to be silent and listen.
I love the quote that says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.”
Trust me, I’m talking to myself today as well as to you, because I think listening is a skill we all can all brush up on at any age in life and then give the gift of loving silence to others.
It seems so simple to stop and listen, but we know that it is not something most of us do well, so when you start listening and slow down on your constant chatter to your spouse, friends and family, they are not going to know what to do; in fact, they will look at you like something is wrong and then question your motives. So you’ve got to be ready to explain that you are working on your listening skills and to understand all the information that they are giving. It will take a few times for your spouse or friends to become comfortable with your new actions, but don’t worry, over time they will come to appreciate the fact you’re really trying to be a better listener, friend and confidant.
We all know that listening is important–that’s a given (even though we don’t do it or don’t do it well)–but let me give you three reasons why I think we all need to get to work on this wonderful and simple gift we can give to others.
- — People need to know that their words matter
- — They need to know that you listen and you hear them
- — And they need to be assured that you’re listening without judgment.
Let me take them in that order.
People need to know that their words matter.
Every time I pick up a magazine, it seems the topic these days is about building stronger relationships in life, work or family. When you and I are silent and allow someone to have their say and we listen to them until they are done talking, it gives them a sense of completion.
Your gift of silence and allowing them to speak will, for the most part, settle a place in their soul, because it is obvious to them that their words matter. So, in turn, they matter, and isn’t that what everyone is searching for? A reassurance that they matter.
When someone speaks to you on a personal level, they need to feel that you care for them and that you care enough to value their words, which, in turn, for many equals your valuing their feelings, their emotions and their life.
Sometimes people just want to be heard, and they struggle to get the right words out to express their truth. You know how frustrating it is when you want to say something and the words don’t come, or you can’t think of the right word to use, but if you’ll just slow down and allow the brain to catch up with the mouth, the right words will come and what needs to be said will be. Friends, remember, most people simply want to know that they matter, and they express that need by the words they use. And then they wait for us to either accept or reject them by our use of words. We can, in a word, dismiss their feelings, belittle their emotion, or devalue their worth, if we’re not careful to understand that what they need from us is to know that their words matter.
People need to know that you listen and you hear them.
I speak a lot on the value of your words, because I see from my work that it is important for people to know that they are heard above the noise of life. You give a great gift when you are silent and allow others to speak and be heard. And I say that because I hear a lot of people talking, yet no one is listening, and what we need to do is combine the two so that we speak and are heard. And if you were to ask me, I believe this issue of people not listening is what causes some of the greatest anger that we see and hear nowadays in the media, at work and in our own families.
It is important that we stop and pay attention to others when they speak, and when they know that you’re listening and that you hear every word they say, you give them a sense of self worth. By doing that one simple action, you’re giving that person a voice, and showing them that you listen and hear them, and that simple act will have a long-lasting impact on them.
It is not a far stretch to think that others just want to be heard, really, don’t we all? My guest a week ago, Steve Hall, said that his phrase of the week was seek to understand. I have really thought about that since he mentioned it, because that simple action could change everything, and, in its simplicity, it proves value and provides a sense of worth and place when we seek to understand. By doing so, it becomes apparent that we are listening and that we hear what is being said.
Perhaps that hardest part of listening is to do so without judgment.
Marc Chernoff says, “Most people don’t need your advice, they need your time and positive reinforcements. What they want to know is often already somewhere inside of them. They just need time to think, be and breathe, and continue to explore the undirected journeys that will eventually help them find their direction.”
We’re a nation addicted to advice–we like to give it and get it. Turn on your TV most any afternoon and someone is doling out advice on life, love, happiness, weight-loss, kids, in-laws and pets. And although that makes for entertaining TV, it doesn’t work in real life. I wonder if we really stopped to see the needs of our friends and family and co-workers, could we stop and just listen (without judgment) and allow them to find their way forward with us quietly or even silently encouraging them onward?
There is nothing more damaging than to rush to judgment, when all someone needed or wanted or hoped for was a little space of silence to find their voice; to hear it clearly, as they work out their plan for their life at that moment.
If we did our part of listening without judgment and allow others to “talk it out”, I think we’d be the blessing that so many need today, because, in the comfort of friends and the safety of companionship, the respect we give others will let those we love know that their words matter, that we are listening and we hear them without judgment.