You come home from work. A bad day. Your wife/husband, keen to talk to you, starts a conversation.
2 minutes in….
She/He asks: “Are you listening?”
You: ”Of course, darling.”
She/He: ”…and what is your view on it?”
You don’t have a clue. You heard her/him talking but you weren’t paying any intention. THEN the argument starts and you better pay attention now.
It happens every day. Between husband and wife, parents and children. Between colleagues at work. At parties or social gatherings.
When you ask all these people if they believe they are “good listeners” most do see it as one of their strengths.
At times, most of us are lousy listeners. The dominating chatterbox in our head wont stop feeding us with thoughts, opinions and judgement. Mostly, we are keen to talk, to be heard. We all love to talk, be it about ourselves or something else.
Try not to formulate an answer in your head or think about the next question you want to ask. You will otherwise miss valuable information. Instead listen with full focus on the person opposite you. Interruption intends to take the focus of them and on you. But its not about you, its about their story.
This is a hard one and requires training. We all have ready-made opinions about something or someone. Noteworthy: Who wants to talk to a narrow minded person? What are the “triggers” or situations that make you shut down? Be open and curious instead and let others surprise you.
Especially eye contact is relevant. Your eyes can pick up valuable information and give valuable information back to the persons who speaks. Eyes narrow, eyes wide open, smile wrinkles, horrified eyes. Our eyes "sensing" it. Other body language is available too. Crossed arms and legs, cracking voices, false laughter, nervous hand wringing, short of breath etc. How does the speaker affect your emotions? Are you fascinated, is there an emotional touch point? This is connection.
This point isn’t in contradiction to No 1 but when we are asking clarifying questions or reassuring questions we demonstrate to our counterpart that we have been listening, that we are interested in what they have to say. Questions like: What do you mean by…? Are you saying that….? Did I understand correct that….? Further, we can nod our head, use our hands, our voice (“Yes”, “Ok”, “Hmmm”) This also shows connection.
Send me a comment when you haven’t been sitting in front of somebody and while you were seriously talking about something your colleague checks his/her mobile. Phones, TV, radio, handhelds are massive distractions to a proper conversation. Research shows that even devices are switched off but “on” the table it distract us.
All of the above requires a conscious focus on our daily interactions. I am the first to raise my hand and admit that occasionally I am violating all of the above. The quickest learning comes from observing our own feelings when we haven’t been listened to. Why treat others differently as we want to be?
It requires discipline too. Giving others space, attention and focus isn’t very often what we have been trained to do. The loudest wins….
The gain however is in discovery of what lays between the lines, the spoken word. Stay curious and open. At least, give good reason and ask to postpone the conversation if you are too distracted.