Can you hear me now?

There’s a major difference between hearing a conversation and listening to one


LISTENING: ECLIPSE workers like the one above work with children to build early childhood literacy in the Eau Claire area. Submitted

Story by Katy Macek, Copy Editor

We’ve all been there. You had a really long day and when you finally get home the last thing you want to do is listen to your roommate complain about her on-and-off boyfriend for the 50th time that month.

But you listen anyway, because you expect whenever she finally finishes that rant she’ll turn around and ask you how your day was and she’ll do the same for you.

Except when she finishes — an hour later — and you finally try to get a word in about yourself she blows you off, not deeming your problems important enough to pay attention.

In some way or another, we’ve all been in a similar situation. But most of us have been that roommate too.

This weekend I went to a leadership conference at Davies Center, but one of the most important sessions I attended had nothing to do with leadership. It simply had to do with being a better person.

The session, titled “Shut up and Listen” and presented by Livi French, a student at UW-Eau Claire, focused on the importance of active listening and how to apply this skill to leadership.

But I think it’s more important than that. I think this skill, while it is vital to being a good leader, is necessary to be a good friend.

An article on the Eastern Washington University’s Student Life section of its website says active listening “involves receiving and interpreting the aural stimuli, and creating meaning from the sound.”

Basically, that means instead of hearing your friend talking, you are responding and engaging in the conversation.

At the presentation, French said there are many distractions in our daily lives that affect our ability to be active listeners, and some of them we aren’t even aware of.

These distractions can include daydreaming, focusing on what you’re going to say next instead of what the person in front of you is saying and the most blatant one of all, cell phones.

If we are talking to a person and texting a message on our cell phone at the same time, French said more often than not we are more engaged in the screen than the person in front of us.

In order to be a good active listener, it’s important to put down the phone and focus your attention completely on the person you’re talking to.

I know I’ve told my friends countless times about problems in my life, but the times it really stands out to me is when someone follows up later with simple questions like “How was that exam?” or, “Did you finish that paper?”

Asking questions and being involved, not only in the conversation as it’s happening but also after it ends, are very important components, not just of active listening but of being a good friend.

My supervisor and role model Donna Lehmkuhl, the ECLIPSE Program Manager at Eau Claire, told me something last year that has stuck with me ever since.

“The most important person is the one you’re with,” she said.

It is very easy with all of the technology to get distracted by text messages, Facebook updates and tweets, but nothing will ever beat the intimacy of a real, one-on-one conversation with a good friend who is not only present, but actively listening with their full attention.

Everything else can wait.