Suddenly, a new business pops up in your neighborhood, boldly promising to teach you: How to Improve Active Listening. You think, what’s going on, or maybe, what have I missed?
I wonder, are people jonesing to be better listeners? They may be, but I’ve yet to notice a groundswell or hear the clamor from growing crowds calling for new tools that’ll help us master Active Listening Skills. What do you think?
And while I’m fairly sure most of us wish we’d listened at some point with more focused attention to our work colleagues, our clients and most assuredly to our friends and family, actually becoming a better listener is an uncommon desire few of us tote around in the back of our minds.
Our Mind Finds Active Listening Abhorrent
Each day over 60,000 thoughts careen wildly like pinball marbles bouncing around inside out skulls. The thoughts are part of what makes us human. yet rarely do they seem to make much sense to what’s going on in each moment of our day. The stream of thoughts occurs in every person walking on the face of this earth and is part of what makes up human. And to try and shut off the stream will only result in an internal battle, with no winner.
The trick (if there is a trick) is to notice and acknowledge the thoughts while allowing them to come and go. And in-spite of those who wish we didn’t think for ourselves, and only do, buy or say what were told to do, buy or say. it’s possible to allow our thoughts to careen from side to side while at the same time be fully engaged with what’s happening in each moment. We are fully capable of actively listening to those who are speaking and sharing their ideas, dreams and creative visions with us.
Our mind is best left to spew out unrelated thought packages while we go about our day unfazed by all the noise.
Out of nowhere a thought or thought streams into our awareness and lingers. If we are in conversation with others that thought may be an opinion of what’s being said, or it may be a judgement of some part of the conversation. No matter what it is, we need to decide if we’ll share it or allow the speaker to continue uninterrupted. This is where active listening shines, by allowing us to decide if we want to interrupt or not.
Often we fail to make the critical choice to speak or to listen. Often it’s as if the thought grabs us and demands our attention. When a thought comes into our awareness label it as “thinking” and go back to listening or focusing on the project at hand.
5 Reasons People Don’t Listen (to you)
1. You’re Not Listening To Them
Recently on This Old House the host asked the chef if there were any health concerns surrounding the use of induction (magnet) cook-tops he’d just installed. The chef immediately listed the benefits of how quickly an induction system would heat the cookware.Oblivious to the non answer the host moved on to his next comment/question.
At times we all think it’s important that we share our ideas whether they are on topic or not, it’s human nature to want to be involved in the conversation. Trouble is that if we are interjecting judgement and bias frequently into a conversation others in your creative innovation (etc) group will label you as someone who doesn’t listen. It’s a balancing act and exactly where developing active listening skills plays a vital roll in the productive outcome of your team.
2. You’re Not Sure What You’re Trying To Say
Spontaneity and originality are often valuable tools in business, but sticking to the topic explanation is very helpful to the listeners
Know what your going to say and have at least a frame work in your mind about how you’ll present it. Time is valuable to everyone in your creative group, don’t waste their time.
3. It’s Not Relevant
There’s always the temptation to go off topic and share stories as a way to relieve stress or ingratiate yourself with the other group participants, this is fairly common in lengthy innovation and creative team sessions.
One way to pull yourself back into the topic steam is to wear a band around your wrist that you can snap or fiddle with as a means to ground and focus yourself.
And as always, remember to breathe. Often when we lose sight of our breath tension will rise and we’ll find ourselves grasping at our thought stream to keep our head above water. Don’t forget to breathe.
4.They’re Not In The Right Mindset
Whenever you gather a group together you’ll also be gathering a unique set of emotions, biases and mindsets together. opinions, judgments, views, slants and a myriad of jagged outlooks come with the group package.
Once we acknowledge there will be divergent mindsets in any working group we’ve taken the first step in helping to set aside ( at least for a little while) those pesky preconceptions we all carry around from place to place.
5. You’re Turning Into A Gossip
It’s easy to tumble head first into the gossip/comparison trap. At times we use gossip or comparisons to get our listeners to like us, regardless of topic.
Gossip erases any trust we have with group participants, trust melts faster than butter in a frying pan when we inject gossip into our conversations.
Talk To Me, While I’m listeningNanci Griffith Flyer Album
5 Things you can do To encourage listening
1. Pay Attention
Once you grow comfortable and proficient at focusing your attention half the battle is won. A daily mindfulness practice of 15+ minutes will boost your attention skills dramatically.
2. Show You’re Engaged
Frequently nodding your head as you look at the speaker let’s them know you are zoned in on their words and meaning. Body language should reflect a relaxed sense of engagement and attention
3. Share Feedback
Share your thoughts and connections with what the person speaking is talking about when there is an opening, but be careful to make your feedback constructive and inquiring and not judgmental or disruptive.
4. Curb Judgment
it’s easy to create judgmental comments in our mind while listening to someone speaking. Constructing answers and judgments while the speaker is sharing is distracting to our ability of comprehending and hearing what the speaker is sharing.
5. Be Quiet
The foundation of listening is built upon being proficient and comfortable with being quiet inside our own mind.On average our mind produces over 60,000 thoughts each day, so getting quiet takes practice.
What’s It Come Down To?
There certainly are a huge number of paths to take in our quest to learn Active Listening Skills, and no one path is right for everyone or for every situation. However at the foundation of each technique there one pillar stands-out. And that is Attention.
You’ll notice below this paragraph I’ve added a Zen koan about attention. It’s not a riddle or a puzzle, it can be looked at from different directions of thought, but at it’s core it expresses the simplicity found in mindful awareness, ” Attention means attention.
One day a man approached Ikkyu and asked: “Master, will please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?” Ikkyu took his brush and wrote: “Attention.” “Is that all?” asked the man. Ikkyu then wrote: “Attention, Attention.” “Well,” said the man, “I really don’t see much depth in what you have written.” Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times: “Attention, Attention, Attention.” Half-angered, the man demanded: “What does that word ‘Attention’ mean, anyway?” Ikkyu gently responded, Attention means attention.