When was the last time someone truly listened to you?
The kind of listening that creates a force field around the two of you?
My friend Charlene listens to me like that, and 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. Carl Rogers, a renowned psychologist, found that focused listening has a powerful effect on the speaker. He found that when someone is genuinely listened to and accepted by another person, it helps them to become more authentic and open to revealing their true feelings and thoughts.
This focused listening process is an essential tool for building solid relationships. You feel validated and accepted by someone who listens to you deeply.
No wonder people who listen well are lovely to be with — they activate our ability to express ourselves. So why wouldn’t we do more of that for one another?
Most of us have an eight-second attention span (yikes!). With email, texting, phone calls, virtual meetings, calendar reminders, and more competing for our time, it makes listening pretty darn challenging.
Our brains haven’t adapted to the technology feeding them, leaving us in a chronic condition of “fight or flight.” Have 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 conversation to take a call?
Another reason it’s hard for us to listen deeply is that we’re already listening to the chatter of our thoughts about our agenda. We are not bad people; we are trying harder to get things done in this age of complexity and pressure.
Either way, there’s such a cost. When you approach us thinking of your agenda or in a state of fight or flight, there is no exchange of energy or 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 vital “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. Listening and inclusive collaboration can spike performance for small project teams of 6-7 people.
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. — Dr. Ned Hallowell
LISTENING FOR BRILLIANCE
My high school biology teacher Coach Jim Tavenier planted a seed that grew deep roots within me. With a twinkle in his eye, “Coach T” would tell us, “I’m listening for brilliance, people!”
Coach T taught us that brilliance was not memorizing the answers from our textbook; intelligence was in our curiosity and imagination. You know what? We were brilliant in his class.
I have never forgotten him or the idea of listening for brilliance — giving people the generosity of your attention and a belief in their giftedness.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT NOT BEING HEARD
In our workshops at Interact Studio, we pair listeners in an exercise that allows everyone to experience focused and distracted listening.
Participants feel self-aware when communicating with a focused listener and reported higher clarity. When trying to speak to a distracting listener, participants report:
“I felt discounted.”
“I was unable to continue.”
“I lost my train of thought.”
“I started rambling.”
“I forgot what I was going to say.”
8 WAYS TO BECOME A BETTER LISTENER
1.) Get face-to-face.
The number one medium of influence is, and always has been, face-to-face communication. When you need to influence a course of action, build trust, or deepen a relationship, show up in person and listen.
2.) Be present.
Full-body listening focuses on being present and aware of the moment. It involves being conscious of all aspects of the body and its environment, including the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It encourages people to pay attention to their body language and energy around them and be mindful of their words and actions.
3.) 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 should not be the polite thing to do. When we listen only to be friendly, we don’t learn anything. However, if you can hear out of curiosity, you will grow, put electricity into the conversation and create a genuine connection.
4.) Lean in, and ask questions.
When you ask interesting questions, you create space for deeper communication. An intelligent question is a great compliment; add to that, you have opened the possibility for trust.
5.) Wait for the period.
Resist the urge to interrupt. One of the more difficult things is learning to wait for a period at the end of a sentence before jumping in. This constant “clipping” of one another’s comments make us feel rushed and unheard. Build muscle around waiting for the period. People know when you are listening–or just working on your reply.
Listening requires practice, persistence, effort, and, most importantly, the intention to become a good listener. It needs clearing your mind from internal and external noise — and, if this isn’t possible, postponing a conversation for when you can truly listen without being distracted.
7.) Listen without judgment.
Listen without jumping to conclusions and interpreting what you hear. You may notice your judgmental thoughts but push them aside. If you lost track of the conversation due to your judgments, apologize to the speaker, and ask them to repeat.
8.) Do not offer quick advice or try to impose your solutions.
The role of the listener is to help the speaker draw up a solution themselves. Therefore, when listening to a colleague or subordinate, refrain from suggesting solutions. If you believe you have a good solution and feel the urge to share it, use a question, such as “I wonder what will happen if you choose to do X?”
A RIDE IN AN OLD CORVETTE – A LESSON IN LISTENING
A friend named Emily told me a story about her dad, John, and a ride the two of them took in his old Corvette many years ago.
John was a robust and straightforward man who had worked with his hands his entire life. In his spare time, he loved working on that old car. He also loved telling people about his daughter, Emily, the lawyer.
After law school, Emily built a successful law practice and ran her firm, but she was miserable. She was struggling with the desire to walk away and answer a call to write and teach. Her colleagues were shocked, and Emily was worried that her father would be, too. He had invested so much in sending her to law school and was so proud of her.
Emily tried to begin the conversation with him several times but couldn’t bring herself to say the words. One day she called him and said, “I need to talk to you, Dad.” He paused and said, “Why don’t you come by, and we’ll take a ride in the Corvette?”
She went to see him that day, and they took a ride. That’s what they did when they needed to talk. They watched the road ahead until she broke the silence and told him about her dream of writing and teaching.
Emily let the silence return before saying, “I know how much you’ve invested, Dad. I’m worried about disappointing you. But I’m wrestling with the idea of leaving my practice.”
After a pause, her Dad replied, “I would be disappointed if you didn’t.”
A few words in that old Corvette in a moment of quiet, focused listening have become one of the strong links in Emily’s life that gives it meaning. She has the confidence to be who she is and accept others who must be who they are, too. Acceptance is one of her gifts; she gives wisdom to others when they need it most.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING
We can’t possibly lead if we don’t listen to other people’s thoughts and perspectives and empower them to express themselves clearly. Otherwise, we give away our power to learn from each other, connect, earn trust, and thrive in the human moment.
Distractions and busy agendas dominate our lives, and listening has become increasingly vital for personal growth and effective communication. By acknowledging the negative consequences of distracted listening and understanding the significance of face-to-face connections, we can actively work towards becoming better listeners.
Implementing strategies such as being present, asking thoughtful questions, resisting interruptions, practicing without judgment, and refraining from imposing solutions can transform our interactions into genuine connection and understanding moments.
As we strive to listen deeply and empower others to express themselves, we unlock the potential for brilliance in ourselves and those around us. By embracing the power of the human moment and nurturing the art of listening, we open doors to personal and professional growth, foster meaningful relationships, and create a world where empathy, understanding, and collaboration thrive.
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