IS ANYBODY LISTENING?
Seriously! Everybody’s talking. Everybody’s saying what they think – whether they know anything about the “subject” or not.
Hey, expressing our points of view is a good thing. But not when they’re not “enlightened” by some sort of knowledge based on information that’s based on “facts”
Okay, “facts” are in short supply; they always have been – compared to “opinions.” – and “hunches.” The indefatigable Lily Tomlin said it pretty well: “What is reality, anyway? Nothing more than a collective hunch…”
But I think our problem is that we want to be heard more than we want to be informed. We want to be listened to more than we want to listen.
Thank God most of us didn’t have that attitude when we were in school. Wait. Or did we? Actually, I remember one kid in the ninth grade who was pretty smart and was obviously told that over and over by his parents. His passion in life was demonstrating how really, really smart he was – on just about any subject (if he didn’t know about something that was being discussed he just made stuff up….) Of course, he continued that habit into high school and college – and got so good at it that most people were pretty impressed by the “breadth of his knowledge.” They actually believed a lot of his made-up stuff. For awhile…
Until they got sick of listening. Then they stopped. Period.
“Hey, are you listening?” he asked me at a high school reunion where he was holding forth. “No, actually, I’m not,” I said. “I’m just waiting for you to stop talking.” “I’m just kidding,” I said to him. “Sort of. But you might want to take a breather and see what other people are talking about. Our class has never been short on opinions and information on just about any subject – and humor! Give it a shot!”
We’ve all heard it said over and over that listening - really listening - is an art. An art that precious few of us have mastered – or even tried to master. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them but I’m working on it! I mean, it’s a lot more fun being the one who’s talking, right? Or tweeting. (Opps. Probably better not to go there…)
But the fact of the matter is that “listening” – truly listening – has never been more important than it is in today’s chaotic, “sound byte,” “I don’t need to listen, I already have all the answers (and the questions)” world.
But “already knowing” is a slippery slope to nowhere. And “listening,” truly listening and learning is the only way out of the darkness and into enlightenment.
The good news is that it’s just not all that hard once you get the hang of it and as with anything else, practice.
Here are some simple techniques compiled by Dianne Schilling, Staff Writer for Forbes, that I think are really good. I’d love your take!
Step 1: Always face the person who’s talking and keep eye contact.
Talking to someone while they scan the room, study a computer screen, or gaze out the window is like trying to hit a moving target. How much of the person’s divided attention are you actually getting? Fifty percent? Five percent? If the person were your child you might say rather sternly, “Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you, okay?” But that’s not the sort of thing you’d say to a lover, friend or colleague…
In most Western cultures, eye contact is considered a basic ingredient of effective communication. When we talk, we look each other in the eye. That doesn’t mean that you can’t carry on a conversation from across the room, or from another room, but if the conversation continues for any length of time, you (or the other person) will get up and move. The desire for better communication pulls you together.
Do your conversational partners the courtesy of turning to face them. Put aside papers, books, the phone and other distractions. Look at them, even if they don’t look at you!
Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Now that you’ve made eye contact, relax! You don’t have to stare fixedly at the other person. You can look away now and then and carry on like a normal person. The important thing is to be attentive. (I call it “being there.”) Mentally screen out distractions, like background activity and noise. Try not to focus on the speaker’s accent or speech mannerisms. Finally, don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases.
Step 3: Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging the other person, jumping to conclusions or mentally criticizing the things she tells you. If what she says alarms you, go ahead and feel alarmed. But don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you indulge in judgmental “bemusements,” you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.
Don’t be a sentence-grabber. Occasionally my partner can’t slow his mental pace enough to listen effectively, so he tries to speed up mine by interrupting and finishing my sentences. This usually lands him way off base, because he is following his own train of thought and doesn’t learn where my thoughts are headed. After a couple of rounds of this, I usually ask, “Do you want to have this conversation by yourself, or do you want to hear what I have to say?” I wouldn’t do that with everyone, but it works with him…
Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with your senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.
When it’s your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next! You can’t rehearse and listen at the same time! Think only about what the other person is saying. Finally, concentrate on what is being said, even if it bores you. If your thoughts start to wander, immediately force yourself to refocus.
Step 5: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
Children used to be taught that it’s rude to interrupt. I’m not sure that message is getting across anymore. Certainly the opposite is being modeled on the majority of talk shows and reality programs, where loud, aggressive, in-your-face behavior is condoned, if not encouraged. But interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says:
· “I’m more important than you are.”
· “What I have to say is more interesting, accurate or relevant.”
· “I don’t really care what you think.”
· “I don’t have time for your opinion.”
· “This isn’t a conversation, it’s a contest, and I’m going to win!”
We all think and speak at different rates. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator-or for the guy who has trouble expressing himself.
When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. Most of us don’t want your advice anyway. If we do, we’ll ask for it. Most of us prefer to figure out our own solutions. We need you to listen and help us do that. Somewhere way down the line, if you are absolutely bursting with a brilliant solution, at least get the speaker’s permission. Ask, “Would you like to hear my ideas?” If they wrinkle their face, just say, “No problem! I’m sure you’ve got plenty of your own!”
Step 6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “Hey, could you back up a second? I didn’t quite understand what you just said about…”
Step 7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
At lunch, a colleague is excitedly telling you about her trip to Vermont and all the wonderful things she did and saw. In the course of this chronicle, she mentions that she spent some time with a mutual friend. You jump in with, “Oh, I haven’t heard from Alice in ages! How in the world is she?” And, just like that, the discussion shifts to Alice and her divorce, and the poor kids, which leads to a comparison of custody laws, and before you know it an hour is gone and Vermont is a distant memory…
This particular conversational affront happens all the time. Our questions lead people in directions that have nothing to do with where they thought they were going. Sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, but very often we don’t. When you notice that your question has led the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track by saying something like, “It was great to hear about Alice, but tell me more about your adventure in Vermont!”
Step 8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
If you feel sad when the person with whom you’re talking expresses sadness, joyful when she expresses joy, fearful when she describes her fears-and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words-your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.
To experience empathy, you have to put yourself in the other person’s place and allow yourself to feel what it is like to be her at that moment. This is not an easy thing to do. It takes energy and concentration. But it is a generous and helpful thing to do, and it facilitates communication like nothing else does.
Step 9: Give the speaker regular feedback.
Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. “You must be thrilled!” “What a terrible ordeal for you.” “I can see that you are confused.” If the speaker’s feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase the content of the message. Or just nod and show your understanding through appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed “hmmm” or “uh huh.”The idea is to give the speaker some proof that you are listening, and that you are following her train of thought-not off indulging in your own fantasies while she talks to the ether…
Step 10: Pay attention to what isn’t said! Be aware of the nonverbalcues.
If you exclude email, the majority of direct communication is probably nonverbal. We can glean a great deal of information about each other without saying a word. Even over the telephone, you can learn almost as much about a person from the tone and cadence of her voice as you can from anything she actually says. When I talk to my best friend, it doesn’t matter what we chat about, if I hear a lilt and
laughter in her voice, I know everything’s good with her….
Face to face with a person, you can detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation very quickly in the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, the slope of the shoulders. These are clues you can’t ignore. So when you’re listening, remember that words convey only a small fraction of the total “message.”
Here’s to our listening, learning and loving it!