The tooth fairy in our region is such a slacker.

My ten year old son Joseph came to me the other night, sad-eyed and wistful. “My tooth has been under my pillow for a week and a half!” he said mournfully.

“Well, I didn’t text the tooth fairy, Joe. You have to let me know.”

“Dad, I did.”

Oops.

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than I vaguely recalled him telling me in passing, while my head was in the clouds somewhere and I was thinking of other things. I heard, but I didn’t listen.

Regretfully, this isn’t the first time this type of thing has happened. Don’t even get Kathi started on the issue. But here’s the fun part. My good wife has noticed that a similar trait exists among our progeny… so she came up with a solution. This was a supremely humbling lesson, but it has proven to be one of the best communication tips I’ve ever heard (and listened to).

I need to listen with my eyes.

Kathi knows that if I’m not looking at her, I’m not listening. The same goes for our kids, some of whom tend to be a blur of motion and extraordinarily focused. It’ll be a good thing in the long run, I tell her.

She has taken the listening concept and applied it to our kids in a way that makes me laugh. “Show me eyes!” is a phrase that rings out in our home with alarming frequency. Of course, it means “listen to me!” If they’re not looking, they’re not listening. Simple.

In reflecting on this phenomenon, it occurred to me that listening with one’s eyes is a characteristic of extraordinary communicators. I have been blessed with opportunities to meet a Cardinal and several Bishops who were tremendous listeners, along with numerous highly placed business executives. When someone like this listens to us with their eyes, we feel like we’re the only thing that matters to them. We feel honored, valued, appreciated.

Conversely, have you ever known someone who has rubber-necked around you at a social event, as if they’re looking for someone else and you’re just not important? That makes us feel quite the opposite, doesn’t it? Dishonored, of no value to them, certainly not appreciated.

A quick tangent for the guys – I’m reminded of a time when a woman thanked me (much to my surprise) for looking at her eyes while we talked, rather than elsewhere. Apparently she wasn’t used to that. We men are visual creatures, so training our eyes on what they should be seeing – and hearing – takes a bit of discipline, but it’s really important. It’s part of how we honor women.

I’d like to thank my wife for teaching me to be a better communicator, even though it takes constant effort and I fail frequently. Now, if I can just get that tooth fairy to shape up – preferably without my kids having to say, “Dad, show me eyes!”