Listen for the sake of listening.
We live in a world of texting, tweeting, sharing, commenting, blogging, podcasting, and videoing. Everyone has an opinion and they want it heard. In dating, men are encouraged by “experts” to develop pick-up lines and key phrases to use to have their way with women. Clever banter and zinger-filled arguments are all the rage. Today’s tip for you, dear gentleman, is not to flatter a woman with elaborate praise of her beauty, nor is it to regale a party of friends with a well-rehearsed story, nor is it to write a letter so convincing that any reader would be persuaded to agree with your point of view. My tip for you today is to simply listen. Don’t even try to create a good response in your head. Just listen with your entire mind. Listen to the world around you. Listen to the people you speak to. And that includes the cashier at the grocery store.
The other night I was checking out at the grocery store and asked the cashier how she was doing. She said “I’m okay.” Asking how someone is doing is just a general, often mindless greeting. But I heard her say “I’m okay” and detected an unhappy tone. Unhappy tones are not at all uncommon among grocery store employees. But I did something very simple that changed the whole evening. I said “why just ‘okay’?” She began to cry and tell me some of her troubles, and I just listened.
I was reminded that evening that people want someone to know they exist, that they have problems, that they matter. I couldn’t have done a thing for that young lady across the counter, but I gave her my attention. And it meant something to her. The conversation we had didn’t solve anything. But someone stopped long enough to acknowledge her personhood and notice her pain.
Not everyone wants to talk about their problems. Sometimes they want to talk about their dreams. They may want to talk about their fears or doubts. They may want to tell someone, anyone, a crazy story about something they just experienced. Be the person who is always ready to listen.
This isn’t specifically a tip for being a gentleman, but listening to people is a rare, special thing. Just because they’re people.