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World’s worst listener

I made two resolutions to begin 2020. One was to not buy a video game the entire year. The other was to become a better listener.

I made it until April on the first but broke it while quarantined. Temptation was high while I was forced to stay inside.

But I did become a better listener.

Often I realize the extent of my bad behavior when I notice it in someone else. I had a manager at my day job who very well might be the world’s worst listener. In our three years together, I’m not sure he heard a word any of us ever said.

I started to notice in myself many of the same habits he had. He tried to listen while on his phone. I started putting mine down when spoken to. He grew impatient with people talking and interrupted them. I started trying to focus on the person and let them speak until finished.

His worst habit, though, was the one that seemed to be my worst, too: He focused on what he wanted to say in return.

We all do that. I was especially bad about it.

I am a compulsive storyteller and story-collector. Without fail, in a few minutes of conversation, I will think of a story that relates to it.

Usually they’re not even personal stories, just things I found interesting and think the other person will like, too. Someone could say they bought a new Harley last weekend, and I’d almost have to say, “Hey, did you ever hear about Johnny Paycheck thinking the Hell’s Angels were going to break him out of jail?”

I’m still not perfect, but I got a lot better at listening this year by deciding that no matter what story the speaker brought to mind, I wouldn’t tell it – even if it was the time Bigfoot stole a UFO and landed at Walmart. I just decided I would not allow myself to tell it.

That was hard for me, but it led to being able to drop the thought of what I wanted to say in return and focus on the person.

This led to some great moments with people. Hearing my friend brag about his grandchildren went from small talk to me truly feeling the pride and love he had for them. Giving others the space to open up enough to tell me their great stories led to me being entertained instead of trying to entertain them. One day a friend finished telling me about the last words they had said to their mother. They were in tears and said, “I’ve cried the last three times I’ve talked to you.”

When people realize you won’t listen, they stop talking. I think that had happened in our home.

Choosing to change myself changed that. I enjoy hearing about my wife’s day now, and I’ve even made it through a few of my son’s 15-minute history lessons.

I’m closer to my friends. I’m closer to my family.

That’s more important to me than Johnny Paycheck.

Stults is a performing songwriter from Russellville.

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