This I Believe: Listening requires restraint, patience

Quiet. Shy. Introverted.

That’s how people described me growing up. I still hear these descriptors sometimes today.

As a kid, my mom dragged my brother and I around as she shopped every week. I would sit in department stores and hear the usual compliments about how well-mannered I was, how obedient.

Yes, I was shy. And yes, my perpetual silence may have originated from some level of social fear.

But it was more than a shyness that kept me quiet. It was the practice of active listening. I believe in the power of listening.

Chit-chatting and jibber-jabbering. Blabbing, babbling, yakking, yammering and yapping. It’s too much. It’s overrated.

Silence can speak louder.

So often we wait for our turn to talk instead of listening. Friendships fade and relationships suffer because we reply with “I” and “me.”

When we listen to a friend telling us about a personal problem, do we respond by asking follow-up questions, or do we divert back to a scenario related to ourselves? Are we actively seeking visceral human connections, or are we checking our phones and waiting to get back to our own issues?

As a reporter and storyteller, I’ve learned the power of words and the importance of talkative sources. The key, though, is the ability to have the patience to listen. You have to restrain your own opinions to get to a deeper understanding of someone or something you know less about.

It’s a skill, and it’s a challenge.

When you’re interviewing someone, it’s about more than just gathering information. It’s about paying attention to everything — from a person’s tone to their body language to the length and feeling of their pauses.

It’s about the moment right before someone tears up as they speak of a loved one who has recently passed away. Their voice quivers and they grow quiet. Heartbreak fills them and the sound of sorrow says more than the words they’re having trouble forming.

You can’t just wait until they stop talking and ask the next question. You must listen, really listen, and understand in order to express a level of sympathy you otherwise would not feel.

In one of my first reporting experiences, I interviewed the grandmother of a 6-year-old girl who had passed away from cancer six months earlier. It was a phone interview, but one of the most powerful hours of my life as I listened to this woman speak of her beloved granddaughter.

When her voice faded out and she needed a moment to take a breath, I remained silent. I knew she would continue with her heartfelt response when she was ready.

Listening isn’t just about collecting information. It’s about feeling and connecting in an increasingly disconnected world. It’s about taking the time to listen and being self-aware, patient and accepting.

With a multitude of distractions in our growing digital world, the natural awareness we used to have is fading away. Self-indulgence and menial distractions make us forget about the importance of sitting back and listening to the world for ourselves.

I believe in listening.