If They Matter To You, Then Listen To Them “Unpack”

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation where it feels like the other person is “unpacking” their entire day as they speak?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that they are unpacking “dirty laundry” or gossiping. They are simply sharing stories and experiences (often lots of them) from their workday, or elsewhere.

Perhaps you’re experienced with this, but I must admit that even after 54 years there are times I still feel like a rookie.

For example, last summer I was in a work situation that had me home most days when my wife and two of our sons returned home from their respective jobs.

Fortunately, all three were doing work that they enjoyed. My wife was only a year into her new career and the boys were working new summer jobs.

All of their roles provided exposure to a variety of new people and unique situations. Thus, almost daily they had a host of different stories which they eagerly wanted to share.

At first, giving them my full attention while they unpacked each day was challenging and uncomfortable. Like most of us, I grew up learning that conversations are meant to be back and forth exchanges. As a result, I found myself regularly chomping at the bit to interrupt them.

However, I quickly learned how important it was for them to spend some time unpacking in more of a one-way direction, without interruptions. It was a time for them to unwind, to share and for me to simply give them my full attention and to listen.

Whether at home or in the workplace, for those folks that matter to you the most, you may want to consider an approach that allows for some uninterrupted unpacking. Here are three basic tips that can help:

  • Stop what you’re doing and give full attention to the other person. For me, this means turning to face them, maintaining eye contact and relaxing. This will signal to them that you care.
  • Reduce or eliminate potential distractions such as newspapers, phones, computers and TVs. Pick a quiet location and settle in for a few minutes.
  • Be patient and don’t interrupt.  Remind yourself that unpacking is important to the relationship. You might also learn something!

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Jimi Hendrix (Musician)

Question: How do you support the conversation when the people who matter to you most are “unpacking”?