Last week something strange happened. In the middle of the day on Thursday I left my office where I had been meeting with a colleague. Feeling great, no symptoms or signs, I got in my car, dialed friend and was surprised to find that my voice was a little hoarse. Five minutes into the conversation, my voice was completely gone. Two days later, spring had officially sprung in our neighborhood and the mystery was solved: seasonal allergies had landed. Though I now had a clue about what was going on I still did not have a voice. This was the first time I had experienced prolonged laryngitis in over ten years and I was completely surprised by how frustrating it was to have to strain to talk and to not be able to fully engage in conversation.
To silver line this situation, I have to acknowledge that there was also something relieving about not being able to speak. Having the chance to just receive, take in, and practice listening without feeling like I needed to formulate a response felt a little unusual and it’s no wonder; in many ways, from a very early age we’re encouraged to have the right answer, the wittiest response, or a good follow up question in conversation. Listening encouragement comes in the form of, “Are you listening??? I said ‘clean your room!!’”
Often, when we think about improving our communication we focus on what we say. Even here, I’ve shared about the importance of naming and vocalizing our needs as a way to greater understanding. But even this naming starts with the first important step of listening to ourselves. So what would it look like we took some time- maybe a day or two out of the week- to give some time and attention to our listening skills? What would change? What would we notice? Let’s give it a try and while we’re doing so, let’s remember what Emerson said…
There is a difference between truly listening and waiting your turn to talk.