Yesterday I went to a professional conference about supervision. It was interesting in that many of the concepts and tools presented were quite elementary in nature and also things that I thought that I knew and maybe even thought that I was using. The speaker had a way of presenting these simplistic concepts in a way that made them seem new to me. Being a good listener is hard, it takes work, it takes practice, and sometimes one might even need to be taught how to listen.
When I was a pre-adolescent I remember my first experiences with someone who truly listened. It was the wife of the pastor of the church that I attended. Last week I visited that church for the first time in probably fifteen years and she just happened to be there. Her husband has long since passed away and she is quite elderly, but far from frail. The church has grown significantly since her tenure there, but way back when it was also considered to be a large church. She still listens. She clutched my hand and focused her eyes right on me although surrounded by a number of other people who also wanted a bit of her attention. I am not even sure if she really remembered who I was, but she still made me feel like I mattered. After she was done with me, she graciously turned to the next expectant person, and when it was time for her to catch her ride back to the assisted living facility, her exit was graceful and well-timed.
I know from talking to other people throughout the years that I am not the only person who feels this way in her presence. She had that gift when she was younger, the wife of a man pastoring a large church with her children still young enough to be at home. She has always been the best listener that I have ever met. Now I am not being critical of my friends, many of them are good and some are even excellent listeners. But sitting in that seminar yesterday made me think back to this woman because she had mastered the art of making people feel like they mattered in more of a professional sense. As I work in an area where people are sometimes in vulnerable positions, I have more than once wished for this gift. Not that it wouldn't hurt for me to listen better in my personal life as well.
So now begins the work and practice of making myself a better listener in general even when I might not want to listen. Hmmm...I probably should try and do that at work. At home? I guess that I will just have to take it one step at a time.