Are you really listening?
In my journey toward better communication, here are 5 ways I’ve found to help reduce the distractions we face in communication:
1. Clear some space –
I started “clearing space” by removing everything from my work area that wasn’t related to the conversation at hand. As the notion of space trickled into other parts of my life, I found myself silencing my phone during meals. I started taking notes during presentations instead of Tweeting. And I gave pause after others spoke before replying. I soon discovered that I wasn’t just getting more out of conversations; I was finding more value in time spent alone!
2. Control your limbs –
You’ve probably been in conversations with people who talk with their limbs; most use their hands. Listening with limbs is another story. Confession: I am a pen-clicker. You know those annoying people who click their pens without realizing it? I am one. If I click my pen while you’re talking, you’ll probably be distracted. If I rearrange my silverware at dinner while you’re talking, you’ll be distracted. So I got rid of my click-able pens and made a point to avoid behaviors that not only distracted others but also caused them to think I wasn’t listening (in most cases, I probably wasn’t).
3. Ask questions –
I’ve found that the best listeners make a regular practice of asking thoughtful questions. When you reach a pause in conversation, ask a question that clarifies a previous point or helps to dig deeper into the topic of conversation. The person or group you’re talking to will gain value from your question and you’ll find it easier to resist distractions because your mind is fully engaged.
4. Make a move –
When you know you’ll be sitting for an extended period of time (shareholder meeting at work, looking through a 450-page photo album with Auntie Dorothy, etc), put in a few minutes of exercise ahead of time. There’s no need to break a sweat, just put in enough effort so your breathing deepens. When you go to sit, you’ll have more blood running to your brain for thinking and the chair might actually feel comfortable following your effort. I’m afraid no amount of exercise will make folding metal chairs comfortable. I’m sorry.
5. Enforce a “no-fly zone” –
This is a block of time you set aside each day that is completely free from the buzzing flotsam of media and work inputs. Silence your phone, close the laptop, put away the papers, and try your hardest not to even think about the big distractions that follow you around. Do some crunches. Lie on the floor and watch the ceiling fan spin. Hang out with your kids if you’ve got them. If you don’t have kids, hang out with some kids who need your positive influence. Knock something off your “honey-do” list and chat with your partner. Enforce your “no-fly zone” religiously and you’ll soon find a sense of clarity creeping into other aspects of your life.
Becoming a better listener takes effort and, most importantly, patience. Be warned, however, for once you start truly listening you may find the process habit-forming. When people know they are being heard they tend to share amazing things we certainly would have missed otherwise.
Looking back, has there been a moment when everything would have been different had you been a better listener? Join us on Facebook and tell us about it!