I call it “multi-tasking.” Jeannie calls it “not paying attention.” As much as I hate to admit it, she’s right. I’d like to think I can ________ (read the newspaper, watch a football game, read a book) AND listen to her at the same time. The simple truth is, I can’t. Nobody can. For all of our gadgets that promise to allow us to do several things at the same time, the human brain simply isn’t geared for multi-tasking. Study after study shows that while we can get more things done, we do them markedly worse than if we had simply done them one at a time.
Add to this another reality—listening, true listening, is hard.
In fact, to actively listen you have to pay attention with your whole body. Your eyes have to watching for clues in body language. Your ears have to be alert to subtle changes in tone and pitch that convey meaning to language. Your body has to be tuned in to sense any fear or anger accompanying the words. This takes a lot of effort. There’s nothing casual about listening, really listening, to someone.
So, here’s what I’m learning.
When Jeannie starts talking to me, I mute the TV or I put down what I’m reading. I look at her. I turn my body toward her. I give her my full attention. I watch her face. I listen to the tone of her voice. I watch what she’s doing with her hands. Every part of her is trying to tell me something. I want to be sure I get it. I want to be sure I get it right, and I want to be sure I get it all.
That’s why I’m learning to give Jeannie my full attention.
Now, I’m not perfect at this; but I’m trying, and the times I get it right are subtle, but real, victories. There’s no one more important to me than Jeannie, and it’s in those moments when she has my full attention that she knows it best from me.
It’s funny—experts are now telling us that it’s no longer about time management.
It’s about “attention management.” Wow. Jeannie’s been telling me that for years. Please don’t mention this to her. She’ll think she’s an expert and will be impossible to live with.