On Listening (Part 9)

"Thanks for listening."

If you want to understand the magic of listening, think about this.

No one ever says, "Thanks for talking."

However, after a really extraordinary listening session, people overflow with gratitude for being heard.

"Thanks for listening."

This phrase acknowledges the rarity of a great listener.


My parents chose to have one child. Me.

Some people would say that I am an "only child."

I don't love that label because it carries strange baggage of being selfish, self-centered, and spoiled.

(However, I've still to find an only child who turned out this way...especially as an adult).

While being spoiled wasn't my experience in a life without siblings, there are some peculiarities that come with growing up as a kid in a small family.

  1. I don't love conflict. In my 20s, when I experienced some of the larger conflicts of my time, I hypothesized that my conflict navigation skills were lacking because I never got to practice fighting with a sibling over toys and time and attention.
  2. I don't love to interrupt or be interrupted. I much prefer being able to finish a sentence and find it off-putting when someone (especially in a meeting) interrupts my sentence to pile on or take it in a new direction. Over the years, I've conditioned myself not to take it personally. I've also conditioned myself to find out later how big their family was growing up. And, in my informal data gathering, I've found a correlation between family size and propensity to interrupt. Makes sense when airtime wasn't distributed unless you grabbed it from someone else.
  3. I learned how to listen by being listened to. Our small family ate dinner together. We asked questions and listened to the responses. I learned how to do this from my parents. As a middle aged adult, I notice it now when I return home. Around the kitchen table, we can sit for hours. I'm blessed that they ask genuine, heartfelt questions, and I can tell they care about the response. I am even more blessed to notice this taking place, and to marvel at the extraordinarily lucky circumstance that I got to be the offspring of listeners.

Listening can be the heritage of the generations before and after us. Let us model for the next batch what it is to listen. To sit beyond our comfort or interest and inquire more deeply, reflect what we're hearing even more precisely, and honor their experiences they choose to share with us. What we're doing matters not only to that moment, but to the generations to come.

Let us do our part to fill the future with listeners.

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