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  • Writer's pictureKelly Marks

Listen Up

I often try to stand near pregnant women in the hopes of looking thinner. That is probably something I should keep to myself, but since I’m confessing… I also love accordion music; I get teary for some reason when I watch flash mobs, and I ugly-cry at the sound of Steve Hartman’s voice on the world news. Literally. They announce, “And next, On the Road with Steve Harman, and I start crying.

As long as I’m confessing, here’s a big one: I’m a bad listener. My hearing is great, and I am good at selective hearing. Active listening is a different story. That is a very specific skill set that requires eye contact, rapt attention and focus. Most importantly it involves absorbing what the speaker is saying without all the while formulating your response or waiting impatiently for your own turn to talk.

And that’s where my problem starts. While I’m listening, something usually will remind me of another story, and I can’t wait to tell it because it relates to what I’ve just been told.

Active listening is a skill that is absolutely unknown and maybe even unheard of in the Marks family. Unfortunately, if I were ever a better listener in the past, I have more of a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy. It’s not rudeness with this family; it’s just that for the joke that’s being delivered, to work, it must be stated at the correct moment whether someone else is talking or not. Apparently there is collateral damage in comedy.

The other night I was puttering around the kitchen, and I started hearing a tremendous racket in the living room. Based on the noise level, there could’ve been 30 people in there, but as it turned out, it was Paul on the phone with his brother Edward, who lives in California. I feel quite certain they could’ve heard each other without the phone at all.

Those two talk almost every day. I don’t know if they actually talk, but they certainly laugh. They talk over each other so constantly that at some point I’m not sure it’s an actual conversation. At Christmas when Edward is here from California, and Robert is here from Durham, I’m sure our windows reverberate with the sound of laughter and conversations that always all happen at the same time and only get louder and louder because as everyone knows, the person who is the loudest is the one who gets the floor.

Studies show that we spend about 10% of our day writing and 10% reading, 30% speaking and about 50% listening. And yet we do a horrible job at it. But if you think about it, you can take writing classes, speed reading courses, and all kinds of public speaking classes, but I’ve never heard of a listening class.

I have a couple of friends who are exceptional listeners. When I've been in their presence, I feel cared for. The fact that they heard me makes me feel that what I have to say is interesting (even if it’s not) which in turn makes me feel that I am important to them. What a gift that is.

Yesterday we had lunch in Durham with Paul’s brother Robert, and his better-half, Annette. I had never realized what a good listener she is, but she’s phenomenal. She made sure everyone at the table got to speak, and she turned her full attention on each person as he or she spoke. Although I knew it wasn’t true, for a moment my cynicism came out, and I wondered if her listening was akin to my standing next to pregnant women. Maybe you HAVE to look like a good listener when you’re next to the Marks family?

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