The other day I interacted with two different people. Let's call them Katie and Rudy. Both were strangers, and both were with me only for a short time on the same day (but at different times). When I met Katie, I noticed that she was open, chatty and friendly. We engaged in conversation for a good long while. She told me about her life, I told her about mine. We gave each other advice.
Later that day I met Rudy. Rudy was also a stranger, but I noticed right away that she was more distant than Katie. She avoided making eye contact, she answered my casual questions and then shut down, and pretty much did everything another person can do to end a conversation politely.
I had so much fun interacting with Katie that when I met Rudy I wanted the same kind of fun. I didn't know how to react to this different persona, so I pushed myself at her. I tried asking her questions, I tried starting up new topics, I tried telling her about myself in the hopes of drawing her in. Nothing seemed to work.
After Rudy walked away, I jumped to the conclusion that either she didn't like me (hey, it's possible) or just didn't want to connect. I tried to figure out what was wrong with her, "Maybe she was having a bad day." or "Maybe she was simply not feeling conversational." I was only thinking about what she was doing wrong. Etcetera.
For those of you who've read my blog before perhaps you see where this is going. I'm sure there was nothing wrong with Rudy, or if there was, that wasn't the issue at hand. The problem was me. I wasn't paying attention to Rudy at all; I wasn't empathizing with her. Katie made talking to so, so easy that when confronted with Rudy I forgot that I needed to do actual work. It takes effort to be empathetic; it rarely comes naturally. Instead of listening, I was caught in the trap of simply talking AT her. In hindsight I remember that people don't want to be talked AT. If they want to be talked AT they will go home and watch the news.
I find it so hard to remember sometimes how to keep the focus on empathy when interacting with people. It's been my experience so far that most people do want to connect, but they need a reason. They need to believe that they will be heard and that they will be listened to - and I wasn't listening.
It's so, so important to listen.
So I'm sorry Rudy and anyone else I may not have listened to enough. I'm going to keep trying harder to open my ears instead of my mouth.
- ► 2015 (12)
- ► 2014 (29)
- ▼ June (4)