Can you hear me now?

Or should I say, are you listening now?

Have y’all noticed how much has been written lately about listening?

As our worlds become increasingly complex and we are more distracted by devices and information than we’ve been in history, is it a surprise that we find it difficult to focus on one to one dialogue? I’ve caught even the most zen among my peeps going elsewhere while I’m talking, surreptitiously checking their iDevice, or cold-spacing while we’re on the phone.

Most people would like to be considered good listeners.  And most people, in my experience, are not.  I’d estimate that in 85% of my interactions I find myself editing stories or rushing to finish for fear of being cut off or boring my audience.  I’d say, on average (husband excluded), I speak for 30% of the conversation and the other party for 70%.  Still, I feel pressure to self edit and minimize my air time.

I’ll acknowledge the possibility that its the content of my stories creating the issue.  But, regardless of how boring a story or poor its telling, we should learn to shut our chat holes and give people time to properly express their thoughts.  This is harder to do than to write about, but I can’t show you my mad listening skills, so…..

A few tips to grease the ear drums:

  • Pay attention to your subconscious body language.  If you notice you’re covering your mouth with your hand, physically restraining yourself from interrupting, you aren’t actively listening.  Stop it.
  • If you hear something you want to respond to, make a mental (or physical) note to come back to it.  When the other person has finished.  Seriously, when they’re all the way done.
  • Allow a couple of beats of silence for someone’s words to sink in before you respond.  You might find your comments are more insightful/relevant/funny if you’ve actually processed the information before spewing something back.
  • When you do interrupt and realize you have, apologize and ask the speaker to continue.  Nothing feels worse than being interrupted or talked over by someone who hasn’t even noticed you were speaking.
  • Make active listening gestures and sounds.  You can trick your body into listening by acting like you are.
  • If you notice your mind wandering, pull it back to the present.  If it doesn’t want to stay there, silently repeat the words and phrases you’re hearing.  Or, re-frame what you’ve heard and repeat it back to the speaker.  If your time out from the discussion has caused a lapse in your understanding, you have a chance to right the situation.
  • Admit when you’ve lost it.  I listen hard to people every day and sometimes I flake.  When I do, I stop the speaker, apologize, and prompt him to repeat himself from where I checked out.  Its likely that your conversation partner knew you weren’t paying attention.  He’ll feel better that you cared enough to ask than just stayed on brain vaykay until he was finished.

As you coach your ears to excellent listenership, think about what the rest of you is doing.  At a party or networking event are your eyes darting around the room? Are you reaching for your blackberry compulsively like a cowboy with his pistol? If so, it might be time for some open ears, eye contact, and a holster.

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Can you hear me now?

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