My favourite coffee in Spain is a cortado, which is kind of like an espresso with a dash of milk. I’ve been living here for 5 years now and I’ve probably had at least two cortados every day since then, so I’ve had more than three thousand of them in that time, which also means I’ve asked for them more than three thousand times too and by now I think I have pretty much got the hang of it.
However today, it took me four times to ask for it before getting the coffee that I’d actually asked for. I’m in a big Spanish city where I don’t know anybody, having a lovely few days away and am a tourist in a tourist area. My Spanish is pretty good these days and yet, I realised that in this particular case, the waiter wasn’t actually listening to me.
To him, I was just another tourist trying to speak Spanish badly regardless of how good my Spanish actually was. So he gave me the coffee that he thought I was asking for, even though he hadn’t paid any attention to what I had actually asked for. This interaction was totally about him. And absolutely nothing to do with me.
I then realised that perhaps this is something that often happens. How often do we really listen to people? Are we just waiting to respond and say what we want to say before the other person has even finished? Are we actively listening to them? Maybe the other person has a problem and you have thought of a solution that will help them and yet,
what if just really being listened to is what would help them the most at this moment in time?
It made me think that active listening is possibly one of the greatest gifts we can give people as it so rarely seems to happen.
‘Big egos have little ears’ — Robert Schaller
Properly listening also shows an element of respect in that however many distractions there may be around us (notifications on our smartphones, for example), we have chosen to focus all our energies on this one person and on what they are saying at that moment in time.
How do you feel when someone really listens to you? Compared to when somebody is flicking on their phone while supposedly talking and listening to you?
Or have you been in a business meeting where the objective was to discuss some points together and then someone (often more senior) ends up talking for the whole meeting, not giving anyone else a chance. The lack of respect for others present combined with a total absence of self-awareness and emotional intelligence is astounding in these cases, but such situations are not uncommon.
If we give the other person the time, space and respect to say what they want to say and how they want to say it, that’s an unusual thing these days. It makes the other person and as a result, ourselves, feel special too. And that’s a good way to spend your time, isn’t it?