The Art of Listening Well

I joke with my dad that he is a “long pauser.” Pauser is not a word, but in my vocabulary it means, “the ability to pause and leave long, uncomfortable silence between words or sentences.” It usually happens while we are talking on the phone or driving together.

For example, my father would start a story, “so,” pause, “Memorial Day,” another pause and possibly a conversation with mom in the background, then, “are you coming up for the day?” Unfortunately I have ADHD so his pauses create a vacuum for other thoughts, which makes the conversation worse. I’m surprised by his last sentence, “You need me to drive up today? Is something wrong? Is mom okay?…dad?” Now dad’s frustrated and confused, “what? What do you mean today?,” pause with confusion, “why would you come up today? I was talking about Memorial Day.” Oh…..

I have been accused of doing the same; like father like son. I call will call a friend, say hi, and pause. A friend once shouted back, “you called ME, what do you want?!” It’s a bad sign when the pause is so long that the person on the other line says, “I think we got disconnected.”

Well, I have a reason: I pause more because conversations today tend to be hurried more. Imagine how many routine conversations escalate with intensity and hurriedness. It’s not confrontational or emotional, but hurried and with no real reason other than to assume we have to get this over with to move on to more important things. A person may ramble off facts or questions at warp speed or, unintentionally or unknowingly, interrupt sentences with guesstimated answers or opinions.

I do it, too. Partly it is that we live in a world in a constant hurried up offense. There is always something around the corner we need to do…and it’s on an urgent deadline. I call people and race through the conversation to get to the next call or I answer the phone and multitask. I check through my emails while someone is talking and jump in on their sentences to give the impression I’m listening.

The lesson here is simple and familiar: Take a moment to ask yourself if you are able to be in the moment with others? Silence is sometimes a necessary vacuum to begin meaningful conversations. It opens up the art of listening. We are trained in the western world to micromanage every minute of every day, but to listen is to expect the unexpected and hear the unknown – the heart and mind of the person speaking. The risk means you might become a “long pauser” but those quiet moments are the moments where God and others speak with honesty and interest…because they know someone is genuinely listening.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord” to speak (Psalm 27:14).