When someone is talking to you, where do you look? If you are trying to show them that you’re engaged in the conversation you look them in the eyes. If you’re trying to tell them you’re not interested and, in fact, really need to be going, you’ll check your watch, phone, look over their shoulder, start digging in your purse for keys, anywhere but their eyes.
Last night Matt and I had a spontaneous mini-date with another couple after Carson’s soccer game. It was just what I needed after a tough few days. (Still haven’t finished writing about that yet.) We met this couple at Matt’s favorite restaurant, Outback, and we sat in a booth in the bar area. They had put in our order as we hit the
Autobahn interstate and our Thunder arrived in front of us within moments of our sitting down. Sweet gig, huh?!?
The way we were positioned, Matt and I were facing the rear of the restaurant, with a nice big view of the large-screen television. Our friends were facing the door. Anytime I spoke with the husband, my eyes were attracted to the flashing television screen right beside his head. I had no interest in what was on that screen. In fact, I can’t even remember what sport they were showing, but it was very distracting. I found myself saying:
“Don’t look at the TV. He’s going to think you don’t care about what he’s saying!”
I didn’t want this new friend to think I wasn’t interested in hearing what he had to say. I find this to be even more important when having a conversation with my sons. At home, I am doing a hundred little things that, when added up, make a big difference in the way our home runs. (Balancing the check-book, reading a recipe for a new dinner I am making, checking someone’s math work, wiping a toddler’s runny nose.) All of those are very important tasks when added up as a total, but individually, they are minor.
I can find myself tempted to “listen while I work” as the boys share something they find interesting. I can multitask. I can hear what they’re saying. But when I do that I am sending them the message that whatever task I have in front of me is more important than the 20 seconds it would take to stop, look them in the eyes, and give them my full attention. Because I found myself guilty of half-listening/half-ignoring my children, I set a reminder on my phone to ring at the same time every day. It tells me to look at the boys in the eyes.
I won’t say that I never listen and work, but I do make a much more specific effort to stop what I’m doing, smile, look at them, and listen. Even when the topic is something I really don’t care at all about, I listen. And by doing this, I find I ask them questions about what they shared more often than when I was distracted by “work.” Eye contact and questions are two ways I can tell my boys I care about what they say, that I think they have valuable information to give me, and that I am not too busy to listen to them.
This also takes away guilt I may have felt at other times when I actually am too busy to listen. I say, “Son, I really want to hear what you have to say but right now I’ve got to finish this task… remember what it is you want to say and when I’m done, I will listen to you.” When this happens, I can say this without guilt because the previous ten times they approached me I stopped what I was doing, looked at them, listened, responded, and had a positive interaction with them.
What are you looking at? If you find yourself, like I did, looking at anything but your kids’ eyes, find a way to remind yourself that looking at them in the eye is as important as looking your friends in the eye whey they speak. I wish I did this naturally, but I need the reminder.