Since I’m arguably the best at pointing out the obvious things in life, let’s start with the most obvious. I’m a talker. And I talk A LOT. From the moment my little body graced this world to the present day, I have always had something to say (a quick apology to my parents for many years of sleep lost.) I am your quintessential extrovert. I process things way better when given the opportunity to vocalize them and I LOVE people.
I always thought about being an extrovert as “my thing.” I love being a social butterfly, being able to make friends with any person who walks the earth, intimidated by no human. I was that little girl on family vacation in Florida who would come up to you in the middle of your underwater handstand contest at the pool and say “hey wanna be my friend” if you’re looking for some context. Years and years have gone by and I have always thought about my extrovert-ism as a strength. I wore it with pride like a brand new jacket from Zara on a night out. And I can honestly say, socially, I’m not inhibited by people. I have my off days, of course, but overall, I get a little bit of a high when meeting new people. It’s fun to me.
But we’re doing a lot of talking here. And like, cool Shannon, you’ve established being an extrovert is the best.
But is it? Let’s talk about that.
So the point of the discussion surfaces. Thank God. As I’ve pointed out, there are a lot of advantages to being a talker. Throughout my life, being an extrovert has been great, and has definitely given me an upper hand when it came to public speaking, or let’s say, giving a presentation in class. But there are definitely some hard truths that I’ve had to face from being the one who is constantly filling the space with noise.
For starters, it’s annoying. I mean honestly, you’ve seen me on Instagram, talking about God knows what. And, unfortunately, it took me a pretty long time to figure out that not everyone cares about what you have to say. In fact, people care about what you have to say maybe 1% of the time. Maybe. I say that with the utmost positivity too. I’m merely being realistic here. And why is that? Well…people care about their own situations. Whether they’d like to admit that or not is completely up to them, but everyone likes to be paid attention to, heard, seen, and ultimately– everyone just wants to feel important. At the end of the day, do you really think Karen is going to want to listen to you spout off about how much you love this and adore that? No ma’am. Karen doesn’t give a shit. But she does care about her raise at work, how her day went, how she’s feeling, etcetera. Need all you do is ask, and the floor is hers.
Which is where we commence our discussion on the importance of listening. And how it can solve a lot of your problems, as it continues to do for me.
There were many situations that I can point out vividly, where listening could have saved me a lot of hassle. As an extrovert, shit was not always sweet. And it was my own damn fault, most of the time. I never actively desired to listen, because I was so concerned with spewing my thoughts out into the void and if I didn’t in that very instant, of course, I would die!!!
So it wasn’t really until these last few years, playing college soccer, experiencing life as an early twenty something, ALLLLLLL the way up until this pandemic, that I finally had enough of myself and said–
“Just shut your mouth.”
So that’s what I did. I was a bad listener, and it had cost me.
It was in that moment that I realized in order to be a better listener to others, I had to start by becoming a better listener to myself.
Not getting into too much detail here, but like many of us, the beginning of my 2020 was a legitimate dumpster fire filled with Napalm, being dragged through the streets, setting ablaze anything in its path. I was at a job that I hated, I was depressed, and overall, really lost internally. But enough of the sob story. So I started taking personal audits of my mind. Taking a peek at my intuition. Becoming friends with her again. After a pretty traumatic last year, I had realized there was all this residual, internal dialogue and noise that was clogging up my ability to listen on the inside. I was so messy. Unclear. So I did what anyone who’s having a life crisis does, and started to meditate. Did you just cringe reading that? Me too. But of course, #healthiswealth so I took a break from social media for a while. I quit that job I hated, embraced unemployment at the time and when I tell you I committed to meditating, I COMMITTED. I didn’t spend all this money on a fancy trip to Bali. I didn’t sit in a tent on the black beaches to meditate for 20 hours to come to this cathartic, spiritual enlightenment. But because I was broke, had basically started from square one, I did in fact spend time in my backyard, in my room before bed, on really long runs, just being with myself, listening to what was going on in the ole’ noggin’. Meditation can really work wonders with consistent practice, and honestly it helped me come to the conclusion that I was (1) being a huge baby and (2) reallyyyy needed to get my shit together. But it wasn’t until I was able to fill my brain with realistic thoughts, painful but truthful thoughts, taking an honest glance of my situation, that I could really take action on any of that.
Something that I’ll never forget from this past year was coming to this amazing, groundbreaking, never seen before, conclusion that reading is actually a form of internal listening. So I took up reading to consciously work on this. I think from the time I moved back in with my parents to now, I’ve read about 25 books. And for me, this is an anomaly. An unheard of event. For reference, in high school, I will never forget when I took one look at the Grapes of Wrath in Honors English in the tenth grade. My teacher placed it on my desk, I read one page, and simply closed the book and said “I’ll pass.” I think I failed just about every test that unit. To tell you the truth, Spark Notes was my bestie through all of high school. I HATED reading when I was younger, and truthfully, I think it’s because I didn’t want to listen to someone else tell the story. I wanted to tell the story.
And what a huge theme that is, of today. Everyone wants to tell their story. But, often, not everyone wants to listen, which I believe, has created the divides we see plaguing the human race. And I was a first hand offender of that. The fact of the matter is, we NEED to learn to be better listeners.
To sum it up, I’ve compiled a list of things that I’ve learned/mental notes I’ve taken in the process of actively shutting up, and putting listening first. You can take it or leave it. It is in no particular order or process, but here it is:
- People love to talk about themselves. So if you ask them to they JUST might take a hint, and ask you to do the same. Then you can tell your story.
- Asking someone a question is cool, but asking them the second question is gold. It shows you gave a shit about what they said before and you’re fully engaged.
- Listening requires effort and energy.
- If you’re going to speak, ask yourself first: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
- Listening requires empathy.
- Put your phone away when you’re having a conversation with someone. It’s hard to do these days since everyone has one, but I’m sure you’ve got a purse somewhere, a back pocket, so put that thang away. Distractions in general.
- Meditation is the best way to truly listen to yourself and help you discern between what is truth and what is fallacy in your own brain.
- By practicing number 7, this skill can translate to real life situations.
- Genuinely try to be in the other person’s shoes. Where have they been? What have they seen to make them think/speak/feel this way?
- Talking a lot can make you stand out in the best and worst ways.
- Listening more can help you pick out when it IS the right time to speak up and say something.
- Talking more does not make you the smarter person. Most times, it’s quite the opposite.
- Listening more can make you a better leader.
- Listening is a selfless act.
- Listening requires patience.
- People will disagree with you, and you have to learn to listen to that sometimes.
- People will be dead wrong, and you have to listen to that too without telling them so.
- Internal dialogue is still dialogue.
- Listening is not merely shaking your head and saying “I understand.” You have to feel it.
- Listening makes you a better conversationalist, saying more does not. Period.
- Listening can often lead to better/more efficient problem solving.
- Listening can help you develop deeper relationships.
- You don’t have to always give your opinion on everything you’ve heard.
- Through listening, we can see the truth.
So obviously, everyone’s a work in progress. I’m not a listening expert. But it’s just a little food for thought. Have a happy Monday!