THE BLOG

Are We Good Listeners?

03/26/2015 12:18 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2015

Early one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling overwhelmed by my over-scheduled life. I'm an exceptionally busy person: I have two children and am responsible for their school lives, activities, and everything else that goes into being a mom; I take care of my elderly and ailing mother; I run a real estate company and am accountable to 100+ employees; and with the minutes that are left to me each day, I am starting up another business. Suffice it to say: I'm stressed.

On this particular day I was angry, sad, and lonely. Lonely was the hardest part because I didn't feel I was getting support from anyone, especially my husband. He's a great father and a caring spouse--the kind of guy who intuits when he should take the kids out and give me some time to myself--and I knew it wasn't anything in particular he was doing or not doing. It was just how I felt. So, in my search for compassion, and perhaps against my better judgment, I called my mom. She always means well, but when she heard the distress in my voice she began offering unsolicited advice, exactly what I didn't want to hear! And she shifted the conversation to her issues with my father. This wasn't the comfort I was seeking. I hurried her off the phone and reached out to a friend, only to find myself in the same predicament. But this time I ended up consoling her!

I know both women care about me and were sincerely trying to help, but I longed for compassion--for someone who would just listen to my gibberish and complaints and acknowledge me without commentary, except for maybe saying, "Wow, how do you do it? You're amazing!" It was simple, wasn't it?

Here was my "Rewire Me" moment:

A little less frustrated at this point, I realized I could either continue to be overwhelmed by my to-do list and angry with my husband as I searched for a compassionate listener, or I could apply my realization--my need to be heard, to be acknowledged--to this and future situations. I'd been down this road before and I knew if I released my anger, I would become bitter, snippy (biting the head off anyone who came into my path), and resentful. Where has that behavior gotten me in the past? Nowhere! So I decided to look for the answers within myself.

The next time I get a distress call from someone, I'm going to pay attention. I'm going to stay silent, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me, long enough to hear, really hear, what that person is telling me.

Society teaches us to always be "on"--we're programmed to respond and fix it, whatever it may be. We've been taught to become uncomfortable with quiet, stillness, and silence. We don't know what to do with the open spaces, what to do with ourselves. We don't know what to say. The experience left me wondering about how I respond to uncomfortable situations. Am I a good listener? How do I handle just listening and not reacting? With silence and compassion? Not always. With a quick fix and a comment about my own experience? For sure.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Well, maybe by learning something new, I can in turn teach it to someone else.