When was the last time someone really listened to you? The kind of listening that creates a force-field around the two of you?
My friend Cynthia listens to me like that. I leave our coffee dates feeling energized with new insights. She says I do the same for her.
Listening like this is an exchange of energy. Way back in the 1950’s, a psychologist named Carl Rogers was writing about the effect of focused listening on the one who is speaking, which is one of expanded understanding.
No wonder people who listen well are wonderful to be with—they activate our ability to express ourselves. So why in the world wouldn’t we do more of that for one another?
For starters, most of us have an eight-second attention span (yikes!). With email, texting, phone calls and work commitments competing for our time, it makes listening pretty darn challenging.
In fact, researchers believe our brains haven’t caught up to the technology that’s feeding them and the impact of this leaves us in a chronic condition of “fight or flight.” Haven’t you felt “the attack” on your attention by your devices? Do you dive for your phone when it rings? Do you allow yourself to be yanked from a warm one-on-one conversation to take a call?
Our Own Agenda
Another reason it’s hard for us to listen deeply is that we’re already listening to the chatter of our own thoughts about our agenda. This isn’t because we’re bad people. It’s because in this age of complexity and pressure, we are trying harder and harder to get things done.
Either way, there’s such a cost. When you approach us thinking of your own agenda, or in a state of fight or flight, there is no exchange of energy. No expanded understanding. Worse, you might be pushing yourself into an isolated approach to life.
Too Busy to Connect
The two most powerful experiences in life are achieving and connecting, according to Dr. Ned Hallowell, a leading authority on disorders such as depression and attention deficit disorder—and the restorative “human moment.” He has found that busy professionals who rely primarily on email for communication can become anxious and worried.
On the other hand, achievers who have regular face-to-face connections thrive. For small project teams of 6-7 people, listening and Inclusive collaboration can spike performance.
The positive effects of a human moment can last long after the people involved have said goodbye and walked away. People begin to think in new and creative ways; mental activity is stimulated. — Dr. Ned Hallowell
Six Ways to Become a Better Listener
- Be curious, not courteous.
So often people tell me, “I need to work on my listening,” and they say it with a heaviness of obligation. But listening is not simply the right thing to do—it’s the enriching thing to do. When we listen only to be nice we don’t learn anything. However, if you can listen out of curiosity, you will grow. You will put electricity into the conversation and create true connection.
- Be here Now.
The title of the 1971 book by Ram Daas is still relevant. We’re missing out on life if we’re living in our heads rather than connecting with the immediacy of being alive. Choose to be here now, and surrender just a few minutes to listen.
- Lean in, ask questions.
When you ask interesting questions, you create a safe space for other people to communicate at a deeper level. Going further, an intelligent, interesting question is a great compliment. Add to that a sense of shared truth (vs. I own The Truth) and you have opened the possibility for trust. This is no small thing.
- Wait for the period.
Living in today’s speed trap, one of the more difficult things to do is learning to wait for a period at the end of a sentence before jumping in. This constant “clipping” of one another’s comments makes us feel rushed and unheard. Build a muscle around waiting for the period. People know when you are listening–or just working on your reply.
- Repeat back in your own words.
Try repeating back to the speaker what you’ve heard in your own words. This is a gift to the speaker who receives energy from your personal understanding. If the speaker agrees that what you heard is what he or she intended to say, you can move on. If not, the speaker needs to reword their statement until the listener really does understand.
- Get face-to-face.
The number one medium of influence and restoration is, and always has been, face-to-face communication. Email comes in dead last. When you need to influence a course of action, restore harmony, build trust or deepen a relationship, think before you send another email. If the stakes are high enough, the cost of airfare can be worth the right result. Show up in person…and listen.
The other day a young man showed up at our door for a class. “Hi I’m Paul—do you have Wi-Fi access?” he blurted. Paul was the first one of his team to arrive at Interact Studio for a course in authentic communication. I gave him the code and he beelined it for an outlet and plugged in his charger.
As his teammates arrived, they said their brief hellos and went heads down with their devices until the class started, trying to dispatch that last email.
But after a few hours of having rich, face-to-face communication, they came in the next morning in a different state of mind. Energy levels were up, and they were looking each other in the eye.
Over the next two days, we watched them tell stories, listen deeply, and give each other some amazing feedback. We saw them become the confident and powerful communicators they were meant to be.
Don’t Overlook the Power of Your Listening
We can’t possibly lead if we don’t pay attention to other people’s thoughts and perspectives. We give away our power to learn from each other, connect, earn trust and thrive in the human moment.
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