Do you listen well? We would all like to think that we are good listeners, but we are part of a culture where it is acceptable to give in to distraction, this can easily harm our listening skills without us even noticing. What is causing this disconnect and how can we do better?
When We Hear But Don’t Listen
‘Did you hear what I just said?’, you might remember someone once saying to you. You will answer that you did indeed hear what they had just said, despite the fact that your mind had wandered during the interaction. This was no lie on your part, whether or not you had adequately digested the information, because you did hear it. You will have heard words coming out of the other person’s mouth and been aware of their voice. The thing is, what the other person actually wanted to know was ‘were you listening?’
Listening is very different to hearing. To hear something does not require particular focus or engagement, it is simply an awareness of sound, it is passive. To listen is to apply focus to a specific voice or sound, to digest it and process it consciously. Our listening skills are not something we often earmark for improvement, but rest assured, adopting better listening habits will work wonders for your efficiency and your communication skills.
This improvement begins with first noticing what it is that gets in the way…
Yes indeed, distraction is one of the most prominent hindrances present in our everyday lives. So many entities are fighting for our attention on a daily basis that we are sure to fall foul and divert to other things sometimes. Our phones are some of the worst culprits. Have you ever found yourself attached to your screen mid conversation? Do you even remember making the decision to look at your phone, or was it just habit? A familiar situation, for sure. Distraction comes in so may forms, phones are not solely to blame. A busy workplace is full of sounds, requests and people you might, if you are honest, be more interested in engaging with. Anything can distract us if we are not fully invested in a conversation.
We have all drifted off from time to time. Perhaps you have a lot going on at home, or there is an e-mail you desperately need to reply to or maybe you are just deciding what to have for lunch! Daydreaming is natural, and often happens when we have not made the decision to focus.
You may be aware that you need to be listening intently to something. Sometimes we are trying so hard to listen, we forget to actually listen! You think, ‘I must listen carefully to this’, or ‘I hope I look like I’m listening’, and by the time you have finished thinking about all this you realise you have completely missed what it was you we supposed to be listening to.
How to Listen Mindfully
To listen is one thing, to listen mindfully is another. To listen mindfully is to listen with focus, without distraction and without judgement. It is said that the average person only remembers around a quarter of what has just been discussed in any conversation. Mindful listening not only makes your partner in conversation feel valued and attended to, but also helps you to increase your retention.
To be present, all you need is to focus only on what is being said by the person who is saying it. So, take a few minutes before an interaction to clear your head of any thoughts and niggles that might cause your concentration to stray. Next, simplify your surroundings. This means no phones, no computers, no other people, basically, no distractions. This is what meeting rooms are for! If you have time, and it is appropriate, take 5 minutes for some meditation to ensure that you are clam, centred, and ready to engage.
Simply put, this is all about seeing the point of view of the other person. This is the best way to come to a solution on any given situation, as apposed to somebody ‘winning’ the interaction. Showing empathy also makes the recipient of that empathy feel supported even if agreeing on a topic is not possible.
Make sure that you are not giving off nonverbal signs that you might not be engaged. Letting your eyes wander, fidgeting, bored or vacant facial expressions or making attempts to move away are all signs to the speaker that you are not listening, not interested, or not giving them the opportunity to express their needs.
By Chris Thomson
Gearing up to what you know is going to be a bit of a challenging conversation? Our very own Neil Seligman has some advice that will help turn it into a more pleasant debate! A Mindful Guide To Challenging Conversations: The Art of Loving Your Nemesis
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