In the last post, I wrote about how becoming an active listener could help us all become more successful (acknowledging we all come up with our own definition of success).
If you haven’t read it yet, it would probably make sense to click the link and read it now, or perhaps you’d prefer to check it out when you are done with this post so I will include the link at the bottom of this page.
The last post generated a lot of buzz and good follow up questions, so I’m going to take time today to answer one of them.
Branden Anglin asked:
What are some tips you have for being able to truly listen to the people we are interacting with? I find that I am easily distracted by movement and noise while trying to interact with others. How could I go about focusing my attention on the person I am listening to, and not become distracted by the rest of the world?
Great question Branden! I’m sure many of my other readers (myself included) have the same challenge from time-to-time.
For starters, let’s face the facts.
Paying attention today is much harder than it was 50 years ago. Yep, sorry grandpa.
The number of commercial messages we get both consciously and subconsciously per day has grown exponentially over the last 10 years. Technology has accelerated almost every facet of daily life and although the research is still new, it’s clearly having an impact on how our brains are being wired.
These new technologies and devices are hijacking a lot of legitimate, meaningful conversations and making it challenging for many of us to enjoy the moment and pay attention. These meaningful conversations are being replaced by an aloof half-listening over-caffienated population many of whom (myself included) are usually packing multiple electronic devices.
Here are some tips I try and use to pay better attention when someone is speaking to me:
Force yourself to make uninterrupted eye contact. It may feel a little weird at first, but making eye contact is one of the surest ways to not only pay attention, but to let the speaker know you are paying attention. If you find yourself distracted, refocus and try again.
Turn off and put away all electronic devices. Have you ever been talking to someone who was texting and using their cell phone while they’re listening? I’ve done it too, but putting away your cell phone when you are talking to someone is a golden rule of good communication. Turn off the ringer and vibrator on your phone too or you run the risk of being distracted.
I don’t think people are doing this maliciously but look around we see it every day and it’s a challenges that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Again, I’m all for technology, but there are some negative consequences and we need to learn to better manage technology and how it effects our relationships and our ability to pay attention to important matters.
Try paraphrasing back to the speaker to make sure you understood them correctly. Paraphrasing serves many purposes.
First, you have to remember what they say, so it forces you to pay better attention.
Second, you show respect to the speaker when you are able to show them that they are being heard when you paraphrase back correctly or mostly correct.
Third, it allows the speaker to clarify any points you paraphrase back incorrectly or incongruently with their intention.
Fourth, paraphrasing and forcing yourself to (try to) remember what the other person is saying will override the self-talk and conversations you maybe having in your head. If you have a lot of self-talk and other conversations going on in your head (I did/do) this will take some practice.
Finally, paraphrasing allows (you) the listener to let the words sink in, not once, but twice (listening then paraphrasing) which may allow you the not only pay better attention, but it may also allow you to gain a deeper level of understanding about the emotions and meaning behind the speaker’s words by hearing them not once, but twice.
Another great tip, is to learn to make a habit of asking one question every time someone is done speaking based on what they just said.
The best kind of questions to ask are open ended questions that generate positive emotions and memories for them to talk about. Or a question having them elaborate on part of what they just said you want to know more about.
Asking one good question after listening to someone speak is a sure fire way to force yourself to pay better attention, make a better connection and be remembered as a great conversationalist.
Finally, embrace the silences. A brief silence or break in conversation does not always mean it’s your turn to talk. Silences maybe pauses in the speaker’s thoughts or rate as they think deeper on something. Many people who learn to embrace the silence are surprised, when they don’t immediately fill the silence and waaaaaa-LA the speaker keeps talking after a short pause.
This is more likely to happen if you are still making eye contact and giving them your undivided attention.
I have a friend Matt, who is notorious for being a slow talker. He’s very intelligent, has a master’s degree in neuroscience and takes his time carefully selecting and delivering each and every word. Communicating with Matt has forced me to become a better listener though at times, I still catch myself being over anxious to speak and he really helps me improve my listening skills.
Other ways to train ourselves to be better listeners and more present are to engage the mind, body and soul in exercises and trainings that help us focus on being present in the moment.
A few of my favorites I’d recommend are yoga, meditation, getting full body massages, and listening to classical music (a little Mozart and Bach), which have all been shown to reduce stress and positively impact brainwaves, improving concentration and memory.
Also, don’t expect to go from a zero attention span to a masterful listener overnight. These skills, disciplines and habits take time to practice and see improvement.
One final idea, if you have tried the ideas above for 30 days without an A-HA moment, I’ve got one more idea for you.
Have a technology free day or two. No computer. No cell phone. Totally decompress. I used to do “cell phone free Sundays.”
Often times when I do this, I find myself thinking about checking text messages, the latest sports scores or logging on to Facebook and/or Twitter throughout the day to see “what’s going on” when in reality what’s going on and more important, is being present in the moment around me.
Turning off technology is a great way to un-program ourselves and it’s alarming, at least it has been for me, just how programmed we are by technology without even realizing it.
Don’t know the answer to something. How about getting out a pen and paper or white board and spending some time thinking about it rather than immediately typing it into Google.
It’s monumental how much technology has impacted our lives and changed how we gather information over the last 10 years and without un-programming ourselves and using some of the ideas above, paying attention becomes more and more challenging!
Hopefully you find these tips helpful.
If you have more ideas on how to be a better listener or try any of the ideas above I’d love to get your feedback in the comment section below.
Also if you have any questions you’d like me to answer in an upcoming blogs please include them below as well and I look forward to hearing from many you.
Thanks for reading and have an outstanding day!
Again, if you haven’t read last week’s article yet, I strongly suggest you do. Here is the link.