By Mac Ling
When was the last time you were sitting with a friend, having a conversation and found yourself listening, really listening: free from distraction, focused intently on each word, completely devoted to their story. I’d venture to guess that it has been quite a while.
In today’s society, where the “disease of the busy” afflicts too many of us, it becomes a difficult task to sit down, and give someone our 100% undivided attention.
Now, let’s say that we’re able to set aside all the gadgets, gizmos, and outside distractions… what about all the distractions that go on inside our minds?
“What am I going to eat for dinner?”
“I wonder why they mentioned pickles?”
“A pickle sounds like an amazing snack right now.”
“Oh wait, what were they talking about again?”
I’m thinking that some of you reading this have similar stream-of-consciousness conversations within your own head, potentially even right now. Focusing on someone’s words and hearing them fully has become a skill lost among us.
When I assume the role of a coach, I notice that I make a distinguishable change in the way that I listen to my clients. I’m listening for the little things, the pauses, the choice of words, qualifying statements, and more. And let me tell you… it can be mentally exhausting. But, the payoff comes as I have a strong understanding of my client’s needs, and I’m prepared to ask insightful questions to provoke deeper thought.
Now, I’m not saying that we all have to listen in this way, but I know that we all seek to have deeper friendships and relationships with those we care about. There’s no doubt that one of the best gifts that we can give to those in our community is the gift of listening. If you’re up for this, I challenge you to apply these three recommendations (in increasing levels of difficulty) to your listening skills over the next seven days.
Put away your devices and focus (NOVICE LEVEL)
Do you really need to have your phone sitting on the table, just in case you get an Instagram notification that someone liked your photo? Dump it in your pocket or your purse. If you really need to watch the time, I like to set an alarm to ring about 10 minutes from when I need to finish time with that person. Look at your friend in the eyes, and give them your undivided attention.
Don’t interrupt (INTERMEDIATE LEVEL)
Again, it’s easy for us to be processing while they are talking, and we’ll want to ask questions for clarification mid-way. Let them finish their whole story. Then, as they finish, don’t jump into questions or give your opinion right away. Allow for a pregnant pause, just in case they have something else they want to add. This might be awkward as you start, but oftentimes people need a moment to summarise in their heads before they are completely finished.
Listen to every. single. word. (EXPERT LEVEL)
This is the most difficult one of them all. You will get distracted, and thoughts will enter your own mind. Take a moment, pause that thought, and refocus on what they are saying. Focus on the words they use to describe the situation. Listen for understanding so that you can use their words to create a picture in your mind.
Listening is one of the best gifts that we can offer to those people who we care about.
Isn’t today a good day to start being a better listener? As you apply these recommendations to your life, I imagine that your relationships will deepen right before your very ears.
Mac is the WIP Transformative Coach. He has been been working with high-achieving individuals since 2006 to create clarity around their future direction and build and keep new rhythms and habits.