Chances are one of these happened to you during a conversation in the last 24 hours:
Device Distraction: They surfed emails/the web/your phone while you talked?
Location Distraction: They walked away to wash a dish, file a something, or do laundry but said “Go on, I’m listening.”
Attention Distraction: They made a to-do list while you talked, jotted notes for a memo, etc.
You know when you’re not being listened to, and it creates frustration, miscommunication, misunderstanding and other types of conflict.
If yore reading this, you probably already try to avoid those types of behaviors when you’re doing the listening. Although – true confession – I spent too much time being distracted by my device yesterday in a meeting. It was not pretty, but distraction is always there, lurking around the corner, ready to pounce.
We know we’re supposed to listen. And in our distracted world, it’s easy to feel like we can listen and do something else – or feel like we must be multitasking just to stay afloat.
However, learning to listen deeply has great benefits. You hear the full story when you’re really paying attention. Body language, the tone and nuance of what people are saying (and not saying). The conversation, side comments, and seemingly unrelated bit of information come together to paint the bigger picture. When we’re really present in a situation, we hear a lot more than just the words that are being exchanged.
Pop quiz: What are you thinking about right now?
Your to-do list? The chore you’re avoiding by surfing the web? Something that’s bubbling in the back of your mind?
Listening is more than just not talking. It also means not talking in your head while the other person is talking.
This is not easy, but if you can do this one thing, you will hear a lot more.
Why? Because we really can’t multitask.
When we talk in our heads, we’re making up a story about what the other person is really thinking/doing/not saying.
“S/he probably didn’t write that memo and it’s going to make us all late again and I don’t know how I’m supposed to do my part if they didn’t….”
“S/he is always late. They’re probably stopping for coffee at that place our other department goes all the time because s/he’d rather hang out with them than get our project done on time…”
– or maybe it’s a story about their character, who they are, why they’re doing something.
“S/he is so distracted all the time I’ll bet they forgot all about our other project and they’re only focusing on this one because they like the team better but our other one is really going to tie up my time….”
“S/he is always more focused on the numbers than on the big picture. I can’t believe I have to work with such a narrow-minded person….”
How do you stop?
It helps to think of a time when you were fully engrossed in what someone was saying. Maybe it was your child, or your partner. Maybe it was someone who’s an expert in something you’re fascinated by. Try to capture that feeling for a moment. Got it?
Now, practice giving that type of attention to your conversations today. Take the pop quiz – check in and see if you’re listening. Take a deep breath and bring your focus back to the conversation. (I may put away those devices today!)
Try to listen without interruption from your own thoughts. It’s not easy. But it’s worth it.
Should you find that pen drifting across your paper, about to make a to-do list, maybe you could jot down this word instead: