Listening and focusing on conversations is a superpower.
Being in quarantine has encouraged me to spend more time focusing on the conversations I am having, especially those with my family.
Before all this happened, I had turned into the person who was willing to pick up their phone during a conversation if a notification came up. I did not want this to happen, but inevitably the capacity of phones to distract caught up with me. So, I could be talking with my parents and simultaneously scrolling through an article.
Scrolling through my phone and having a conversation at the same time meant that my attention was split. There was no way for me to focus on either of these two activities, because they were happening at the same time and they both required me to process large amounts of information. As a result, the value I derived from each activity was limited.
Taking the time to listen to other people talk, without a phone in the background, has been a pleasurable experience. It has encouraged me to spend more time living in the moment, and to embrace the value that each conversation can provide.
I have learned a few things from my time purposefully focusing more on my conversations.
One of the first things I learned was that every conversation, no matter how mundane, deserves your attention. Prior to this philosophy, I had allowed myself to seek solace in my phone in some conversations when I got bored, because I thought there was more for me to learn from my phone. But this turned out to be wrong.
When someone opens their mouth, they are sharing information with you that they feel is worth sharing. Whether they have an important fact to share, or whether they just want to share something they are passionate about, to them what they are saying is important. This means that the least you can do is listen to what they are saying.
My conversations with my mother about our work days can seem rather monotonous at times -- we are talking about work after all -- but each conversation is worth engaging with. When my mother talks about work, I can learn more about how she spends her time, and how she thinks about what constitutes good work. I can hear about her day-to-day life, and can collect the information I need to construct an idea of what her job really entails.
Sometimes, the value of each conversation is not clear, but that leads me to the second lesson I have learned: not every conversation needs to have a clear purpose.
It’s easy to think that each conversation we have must have a specific purpose. We must engage in a conversation to communicate a piece of information. However, sometimes we just want to chat. Sometimes we want to talk with someone for the sake of talking with them. I think this is often the case when we are lonely; during those times, we just want someone to talk with, and we don’t want to worry too much about the content of the conversation.
This is why it is important to value every conversation, not just those where a clear purpose is evident. Someone may be talking with you for comfort, or because they want to strengthen their relationship with you, and it’s difficult to know the motives of the other person with whom you are talking in a conversation. So, if someone wants to chat, you should just listen, even if you do not see a clear purpose in your conversation.
With that said, even though there may not be a clear intent to a conversation, there is still so much you can learn if you listen and be present.
When I was talking with my mother at breakfast today, I was able to learn more about the types of work she enjoys doing. I now know that she is busier than ever with work, and I know the types of tasks she does on a daily basis. I was also able to get a better sense of how confident she felt going into the day.
These are all valuable pieces of information -- they allow me to get to know my mother more -- and were conveyed through a seemingly mundane conversation. This is because I gave someone the opportunity to open up and chat, and the result was that they shared all the information they thought I would be interested in. And interested I was.
In listening more to the conversations with which I am involved, I have also realized just how beautiful human communication can be. Talking allows you to share what is on your mind. It can be unstructured, sure, but that is part of sharing your raw thoughts. Because most of us can talk, it is a universal form of communication, even if language can present a barrier if two people cannot speak in the same tongue.
Each conversation should be savored and appreciated. I may enjoy scrolling through my phone, but when I compare the value of scrolling through a feed to talking with another person, I realize just how much more value there is to be extracted from having a conversation.
So, going forward, I am going to try to listen to others more, and set aside distractions. I am going to ask more questions so that I can hear even more from other people, and get to know them on new levels. Each conversation opens up someone else’s mind to you, but to notice you need to be fully engaged with the conversation.