I was at a business related function recently in which I overheard this question being asked of someone and it made me take pause.This is a question that invariably gets asked of all of us at one time or another in our lives. Most of us typically respond with answers related to our career choice in life or our status as parents. But I often wonder just what it would mean if we all responded with "too much to relay in the course of a brief encounter, but if you are so inclined I would be happy to go into more detail about the last 10, 20 or more years of my life in the hopes of allowing you to know what it is I have done, do, and plan on doing in the future." Most people would probably think you were being sarcastic or worse, think you were nuts, so their eyes might be darting nervously around searching for the closest escape route!
Now, I am not implying that we in fact need to go into any great detail about what it is exactly that we "do" but it did make me think that we often ask people questions and only want the briefest of responses to be stated in reply. Although, how many of us can sum up our lives or answers to questions asked of us in one succinct sentence. How many of us would be secure enough with our self esteem to say "I do what ever I need to do." Or to steal a line from the scouts "I do my best!" Probably not many of us, as the conditioned response is much more directed toward the "doing" as being related to our success in life. In other words, we often phrase our response based on our own perceived assessment of the person asking the question.
We get caught up in thinking of what might impress, interest or excite them into thinking more highly of us as a person or get worried that our reply makes us look less appealing. So many thoughts race through our minds as we try to second guess the person's motive in asking the question. Or worse, we feel that no matter what we say it won't be enough to satisfy us or them.
There are many such questions that are similar in nature to the one serving as the title to this blog post. They are questions like:
"How are you?"
"Do you work?"
"Do you have children?"
"What are you doing?"
"How was your day/night/evening/morning/trip/vacation etc?"
"Are you busy?"
You get the point and can probably think of many more as well.
I think for many of us in this 24/7/365 world we live in, our ability to truly communicate with one another in a meaningful way is circumvented by tweets, texts and emails that require us all to give the briefest of responses to the questions asked of us. The pervasive feeling is that people simply do not have enough time to listen, let alone carry on a conversation, so your response will need to be brief, succinct and to the point. Then it is up to the person asking the question to decide whether or not your response is worthy of further conversation or not.
Have to admit, I too have been guilty of asking all of the above and even more guilty of being in a hurry, hoping the person responding will not go into any great detail. But lately, I am taking more time with people and truly listening to what they are saying and making sure my response is thoughtfully phrased based on the information imparted to me. Even if this means I need to stay and listen for longer then I had anticipated.
So next time you feel the urge to ask one of the questions listed above, try to truly be there for the response, in an attentive, interested way. Try to not judge the response, but actively listen. And try to not be too quick to offer advice, or anecdotes or even relate it to something in your own life until you have given this person ample time to say what they needed to say. And don't always feel you have to respond with automatic responses like "that's nice" or "sounds interesting" but respond with a look, gesture or words that show you truly heard the response.
Trust me, this is not so easy to do in a culture conditioned to provide sound bite answers in order that we may all proceed with our busy lives. More importantly, our ability to truly connect to one another in any meaningful way is lost when we hear with half an ear or are distracted by the "to do" list in our heads. Try to take the time to really listen, without mental distractions, and really be there. Better yet, only ask the question if you really want to hear the answer and not because it seems like the polite thing to do. Engage with people! You might make a difference in your life and theirs, by showing you care enough to TRULY listen to the words spoken thus giving YOUR TIME to show THEY MATTER.