A Giving Ear

This little garden gift brightened my day one morning when I walked into my office to be surprised by such cheer. My friend and colleague, with a true “giving ear”, grew the zinnias as well as the herbs used to make the homemade pesto. How she hears and knows me so well. (Photo by Whitney Caves)

We all long to be understood, to be known. It’s a common human trait and underlying drive. We want people to “get us”–really get us. And so I like to GIVE based on that simple truth as well–to show the ones I love that I have been tuned in and that I get them. 

I suppose my theory would be that in order to be a good gift giver, you must first be a good listener–an observer. Pick up on cues, ask good questions, and really listen–all year long–to what your loved ones are saying and what they enjoy. Then pick creative ways to help them feel loved.

One Christmas, it hit home when a friend opened a gift I picked for him and immediately said “Ahh! You listened to me!” This same friend, who is characterized by his gratitude and cheerfulness, every year at our Christmas gift exchange says “It’s just so good to be known.”

It’s not all that difficult really. We had been together at a store only a few weeks before. He picked up an item–a shower speaker to be exact–and said “Hmmmm. I might like one of these. I think I’ll tell my mom to put that in my stocking.” Then he thought a minute, I presume analyzing the frivolousness of such a request, and said, “Nah… I don’t really need it.”

You better believe that when a Groupon popped up for shower speakers, I was on it! And he loved it. He loved that I heard him– that I listened.

I’ll give another example from a recent Christmas. My mother-in-law serves people in her kitchen nearly every single day. She works hard harvesting and cleaning vegetables, chopping, mixing, stirring, baking, then cleaning and starting all over again. On a previous trip to her house, I noticed the sprayer in her sink was shot. I thought of how often I use my sprayer, and I cringed at the thought of going without. And this is a lady who uses her dishwasher only as a drying rack (or to “hide” things she might say). She loves to hand-wash those dishes! So I set out to lobby and shop for a new faucet and sprayer for her. She was delighted! And all it took was tuning in–having a giving ear.

I often tell my clients that they should each seek to understand before seeking to be understood. (My dear husband taught me that).

If we seek to understand rather than to be understood, it’s likely we’ll end up with both.

Many conflicts I see in my office as a therapist can be boiled down to one or both spouses feeling misunderstood in some way. One will look at me and say “See. He doesn’t get it”. So I hang in there with them, teaching them to not give up on one another, until they both feel understood. And the goal is for each of them to grasp the magnitude of always seeking to understand. I could expound on this for days in a a future blogpost, but what it comes down to is this:

Let the ones you love know that you care by really listening and tuning in. One way to do that is through using a “giving ear”.  

Gift giving is one of the languages of love that author Gary Chapman notes in his book The Five Love LanguagesWe gift-givers (yes–I’m one of them) are cut from the same cloth. We cry when we open a thoughtful gift and feel like our hearts may explode, and we feel overwhelmed with joy when we come across the “perfect gift” for someone we love. We feel most loved when someone takes time to note our likes and longings and wraps it all up and tops it with a bow.

So from someone who gives and receives love through gifts, allow me to offer a few

Tips on Using a Giving Ear:

  1. Begin by observing your loved one when you’re out and about. At the mall, at the antique store, at the dollar store- it doesn’t matter. Notice what she is drawn to- what does she pick up then put down? What does she smell of, comment on, pick up to read?
  2. Ask “dream” questions every now and then. “If you could do anything. . .?” “If you could go anywhere. . .” “If you could have anything. . .”
  3. Here’s a simple one. Observe his activities and interests. My husband is a beekeeper and a Tolkien fan. He likes chess and anything handmade, especially if it’s wooden.  He likes trees and nature and all things California or Yosemite. He plays basketball and likes to read and hike, and he’s a handyman. See! There’s a whole slew of gift options for such a person
  4. Ask outright. Who says we can’t do this? “What would you like for your birthday?” You may be surprised at how well this question is received. If your significant other wants you to be a mind-reader (and there are times you should be) then best of luck with the other 6 strategies. But don’t assume.
  5. Take mental notes. Repeat repeat repeat. This is the most important step. You may think of a great gift when you hear your loved one make a comment. Take it a step further and don’t forget it! Repeat the idea to your self a few times at least until you can get to a place to. . .
  6. Write it down. Keep a running list of gift ideas for people in your life. Save it in your notes on your phone or keep a file. You’ll be glad you did when it’s birthday or Christmas time
  7. Keep it simple. Don’t think “extravagant” or “expensive”. Think “meaningful”. For our 10th anniversary, one of the gifts my husband gave me was a wooden jewelry box. “Oh this is cute,” I thought and offered my thanks. Then. .  . I opened it.  (Let me preface: One of my favorite movies is The Sound of Music and one of my favorite songs is “Edelweiss”. It was in our wedding, I have sung it to all of our children as I rocked them. My husband learned it on the guitar–one of his first songs–for me to sing along to. It’s just special.) So you can imagine when I opened the little box and it played “Edelweiss” I nearly crumbled. “You win!” I said with tears. He “Got me.”

So go and give the gift of listening. There’s more to this story. There’s more to it than the art of gift giving. It’s truly a way of showing love. And for your people who speak and receive love through gifts, you might just be speaking their language in a way you never have before.

(PS…click the link to get your own copy of The Five Love Languages. You’ll be so glad you did!)