Names are the worst for me. There I am smiling, nodding, shaking the hand of the A/V technician who I REALLY need on my side at this conference, and not an hour later (something has gone awry), I am tracking him down, desperately trying to summon his name from my low bandwidth, short-term memory. And that is just a name. Now, layer attentiveness and attunement to the automatic, non-selective quality of hearing, and well…”I’m sorry, what did you say?” It’s all so simple – most of the chatter we pay attention to is the voice inside our own minds. Oh, this is NOT news to you?
During our “Engaged Conversation” workshop last week, Barbara and I role-played the various ways we all pseudo-listen. We covered the gamut (btw, did you know that the word gamut was originally defined as the “lowest note in the medieval musical scale?”) This role-play included classics from, “Sure I am nodding my head, but I am really just marking time until you stop talking so I can share my thoughts,” to “Let me ask you a whole lot of questions while you talk, which seems like I am interested and paying attention, when in fact I am actually hijacking this conversation.”
Here is one straightforward reason for why we are so easily distracted from listening. Normal speech rate is about 140 words per minute. Research from Stewart Tubbs and Sylvia Moss suggests that we have the capacity to understand up to 450 words per minute. So this enormous differential means our minds wander….to our inner, ongoing monologue.
Here are three simple steps we shared to improve listening. Warning: they all require active engagement.
1. Clear the mind: As judgments, thoughts, and to-do lists flow through your mind, return to a “clean slate” state.
2. Capture the message: Concentrate on what is being said. Use all your senses to receive the true message of the speaker ( i.e., listen to their body language,too).
3. Support the speaker: Eye contact, head nodding, spark-word repetition (if they have a lot of energy behind a phrase or word, repeat that word …it shows you are following their interests, not yours.)
We all know the power of being truly listened to, be it in professional or personal relationships. Is it easy? No. Will your world improve if you listen with more active participation? Yes.
“The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Good schmoozer’s are good listeners, not good talkers.” – G. Kawasaki