At high school, I had a crush on Eva, Gail, Danielle, Kim, Irini, Louise and Amy. But they remained crushes. I never dared to ask any of them out on a date. In spring 1994, I travelled to a small town in Germany as part of a school exchange programme.
My exchange partner was Hans-Joerg. He was a couple of years older than I was. He had floppy, blonde hair, like Kurt Cobain that he’d swish from his face. His jeans were ripped in all the right places. He rolled up the sleeves of his black and red chequered shirts just enough to show his black leather and bead bracelets.
The girls loved him. And the boys wanted to be him.
At the time of my German exchange with Hans-Joerg, I had a crush on Kim. She was a bit of a rebel in school – often in trouble, but nothing too serious. She was a good pupil, worked hard but had a punk side. She was the first girl I liked that wore a leather jacket, so I thought she was way out of my league.
After a long day of classes in the German school, I saw Kim sitting alone on a wooden park bench. I remember that it had no proper back support – it was a narrow slab of wood resting on chubby concrete legs. For a few days she didn’t seem her usual bouncy, happy, punky self.
Somehow, on this day, I was courageous enough to sit beside her. She turned and smiled at me with wet eyes. Kim told me about her boyfriend back in Scotland. I knew him well. He was older than us both. He was built like a tank and almost always wore green t-shirts, even in winter so that he could show us his muscles. He planned on joining the army. Kim told me that he was insanely jealous and that when they argued he would often push and punch her. I had already noticed bruising on her forearm and shoulder.
We continued to talk. She cried. And I listened. This was the first time I’d heard someone share such personal stuff with me. And it was the first person, other than my mum to cry by my side.
She always seemed fine when I saw her around school surrounded by cool friends. I certainly didn’t think that she was suffering.
I don’t remember how long we sat on that wooden bench, but the sun had set.
Under the orange glow of a streetlamp, she pounced on me with such a force that I almost fell of the narrow wooden bench. But then she was gentle and warm.
That was my first proper kiss. And it was wonderful.
We spent the rest of the trip together – usually stuck to each other’s faces. Hans-Joerg didn’t mind I was spending time with Kim as he had hooked up with one of my classmates.
When we got back to the UK, Kim and I didn’t date. But she ditched her jealous, aggressive boyfriend, and I moved onto my next crush.
It wasn’t the first kiss that was most memorable; it was sitting on that bench next to Kim, listening to her share her troubles with me. Our conversation and brief relationship in Germany changed me. As a 16 year-old boy, I learnt that people can be struggling even if on the surface everything looks fine. And that people will share their troubles with you if you just listen to them.
We all know how powerful listening skills are and how often they get overlooked. When we genuinely listen to our children – or spouses, friends, clients or anyone else for that matter- we can learn so much from them.
Deep listening isn’t just useful for surface-level conversations; it’s also helpful when one needs to help someone else out of a difficult situation. Many people are used to pretending they’ve been listening the whole time, but when you’re listening deep within the heart, words like “That’s nice” can’t even begin to portray how much you listen to others.
It’s a skill that can be learned by anyone, it doesn’t take lots of advanced training or complex skills. Deep listening requires a psychological openness, respect and consciousness that helps you to understand better both the person who is speaking and that which is being said.
Deep listening is one of the most powerful tools I’ve ever learned to better understand myself and my relationships. Deep listening is a skill that can change your life. It has taught me important lessons about myself and others that I never saw coming.
It’s not always easy to do. We all have our own issues and stories that we want to share but listening reminds us that everyone has something to say that can help – even if it isn’t directly related to the topic being discussed.
How often do you listen to your clients or customers? I mean really listen and allow them to talk without interruption or letting your mind wander to all the solutions you’re eager to share with them.
You don’t need to provide a solution immediately. Just listen deeply. You can always contact them afterwards with your solution. But when they’re speaking, listen – you never know what they might share with you.