Curiosity – What Can We Find Out About Each Other Through Listening?

It makes me smile to find that what we need most, we were taught when we were little children. For example, “Look right, left and right again, before crossing the road, and keep looking”, another being, “Keep your mouth closed while you are chewing.” So often these phrases whilst being correct, are also metaphorical. In the first instance, it could mean, take everything into account before making a decision and keep being alert to changes that may arise. Or, stop talking whilst you are taking-in what the person in front of you is saying.

How many times have you been in a conversation, and whilst the person is talking you are gearing up to speak, rehearsing what to say when they stop talking or pause for breath? And without you being aware, your mouth starts to open.

Even this very subtle movement of your mouth is enough for the speaker to notice, and in doing so, interrupts their flow of thinking. They feel that you have stopped listening to them.

Can you recall those times when this has happened to you? You have noticed they have stopped listening.

How does that feel?

But, I can hear you saying as you are reading this, “But, I am sure that what I wanted to say will be important to them, or it can show that I understand them.”

Or, “I know what they are about to say”.

Do you? Really?

Or are you trying to say, “My thoughts are more important than yours, I know more than you do, and just stop talking and let me tell you what you are about to say”? You have lost interest.

When audiences are challenged with these questions, the answer I usually receive is that this behaviour is, “So rude”.

We don’t mean to be this way; most of us are good people, doing the best that we can, based on our experience and knowledge. We are simply unaware of our behaviour.

What does curious mean?

Being curious means moving into a state in which you want to learn more about someone or something, (sometimes this includes their worries and fears, pleasures and joys). Also, finding out something unusual or different, and realising it is worth the time taken to notice.

I recall meeting a new prospect at his club. I asked for him at Reception and they were delighted to take me to him. I noticed that he greeted the Receptionist by name. I subsequently found out that he knew all of the staff by their first name. Not only that, he knew about their job, some of their personal lives and so much more. It was evident that he was extraordinarily loved by so many of the staff, yet he was just one of the members. I asked him why. He said one word. “Curiosity. I am genuinely interested in them, and in doing so they are interested in me.” Each of them feels heard, valued and their contribution matters. Does he get special treatment? You bet he does!

How can you become and remain curious?

  • Believe that for the duration of this conversation, the speaker is the most important person in your life.
  • Remain still and quiet throughout.
  • Believe that they have all the answers to any of the questions they may raise.
  • Wonder what is going on for them, at this time, in their life.
  • Keep your intention to understand uppermost in your mind.
  • Encourage them to speak more, by nodding, smiling, saying quietly, “Aha”, “Mmmm”, etc.
  • Should you need to clarify a point, ask a question, using an ‘open’ style of question ideally. (Be mindful of asking, ‘why’ though, as it can seem accusatory).
  • When they pause, count to three in your mind, and if they are still quiet, ask, “What more?” or repeat the last word or a word or two from what they just said. You will be surprised how many times you can ask this simple question. When there is no more to say they will smile and say so.

It is quite beautiful to watch how being curious, remaining silent, and deeply listening to a fellow human being, how easily they open up further.

They will;

  • Greatly appreciate being in the safe space that you have created, where they are able to think for themselves, feel relaxed and less stressed, and to speak more openly and honestly.
  • Feel good because they have been seen and heard.
  • Usually share more than they would with others, and often sharing something they have never shared before.
  • Typically arrive at their own solutions.
  • Trust and like you more.
  • Be interested in you and be prepared to listen to you.

How curious can you get today?

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Colin D. Smithhttps://dexteritysolutions.co.uk/
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.

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  1. Being curious and wanting to learn new things is great. If you inadvertently move your mouth when somebody is speaking is not being rude. Occasionally our minds drift which may change our facial expressions. It is rude to interrupt a person when they are speaking or try to talk over them. Very interesting article, Colin.

    • Thank you Joel, Happy New Year to you. What came up for me when I read your comments, was that you had noticed your mouth moving. When we notice things like that, we also notice the thought arising and how our whole body has been triggered and we are reacting to something. When we notice that, we can pause it and thus enable ourselves to respond rather than react. In your case, your mouth had moved. As our noticing skills evolve and improve, we will have already paused the thought and the mouth will not get moved. Colin

      • Colin, thank you for your response. Every time I may notice any type of movement there will be other times I will not notice it or I will do something else upon a thought entering my find or another reason. If you are a public speaker or just somebody giving a speech or a presentation you have to focus on what you are saying rather than focusing your attention on your presentation or what you want or need to say. If your audience is not listening you have to try to recapture them. A presenter who is losing his audience will see many signs of restlessness. The same will hold true for somebody who is not effective at public presentations. One on one communication may have the same issues.

        • Thank you Joel. You make good points. My friend says a good presenter is like surfing the waves, you are doing far more than riding the waves. Complete awareness of everything. The more we can ‘be’ in flow, rather than ‘doing’ the presentation, the more authentic and real it will be, and we will connect to the audience. Colin

  2. Thanks for this reminder Colin! I believe that one of the most important changes we can make to resolve our pressing issues in the world is for everybody to listen to each other. People who feel ignored or taken for granted on a regular basis begin to act out in brazen ways to get attention. Observe any three-year-old after being ignored for a while. I wish we could add a class about listening to our school programs to change how we interact with each other. I am catching myself more and more when conversing with others and it is rewarding to see how my listening brings joy to others and changes the results of the conversation. Great topic!

    • You sum up the need in the world very well. Start listening to each other, be curious about what it may be like from the other’s perspective. Done well, they could come around your side of the table to understand why you see things the way you do. And why shouldn’t we come to any conversation open enough to have our mind changed, or at least explored? Listen first, listen always.

  3. I love these brief, concise and topical primers on stuff that “should” (that wonderful word..) be second nature to us all, but isn’t. This is the most precious gem in this mine full of gems: “Believe that for the duration of this conversation, the speaker is the most important person in your life.” If we do that, we are on our way to being totally curious, totally engaged, and totally worthwhile to engage in for any reason. Thank you for this excellent reminder.

    • Love the should ‘word’ Tom, thank you for sharing. When we believe this person is the most important, that alone is enough to enable all of the other facets of listening to fall into place. You move from doing listening to being a listener.

  4. Colin, this was a great read. It definitely touches upon situations I’m sure we can all relate too. The more mindful we become, the more we start to listen. “Talk to teach, listen to learn”.#opism A best informed response is always A welcome prompt for further communication (in my view anyway). . it’s just the ones that keep cutting you off that teach you they are not either a teacher or a learner..
    When this happens to you, you know how it feels..you remember it too. But when someone listens and engages with you, shows a real interest. You perk up and really notice.. and it really does feed the sense of value we all so need and seek
    Excellent article. Thank you so much
    Have a wonderful day!
    Paula

    • Thank you Paula for your observation. The only downside of learning to listen is that you realise the majority of people don’t listen, and even those who look like they are listening, reveal their truth sooner or later. They can’t help themselves. For example, the overly friendly person who seems to be interested in you and does, at one level, listen quite well. However, there is something incongruent between what they are saying and what they are doing. We can feel it, something is not right, and usually, it is their intent.

      You are so right, we know how it feels to be ‘cut off’, and it hurts. On the other hand, when we are listened to and feel heard, it is very special, and we feel it deeply…probably deeply enough to tell others about the experience.

  5. Keeping your attention to understand is brilliant, Colin. I believe with that alone do myself in conversations will help me stay engaged, curious and being a good and respectful active listener. People do deserve that type of respect. A thoughtful piece!

    • Thank you Maureen, I appreciate your comment. Listening is not difficult, we need to be aware of what we are doing and then practice it every time. Start small, such as removing all items that could distract you, look at the speaker when they are speaking and don’t start speaking until they have finished, oh, and when you think they have finished take another breath or two or ask, “What more?”

        • The phrase comes from Nancy Kline’s work in Time to Think, and what she found is that you can ask this question of the speaker many times until they agree they have finished. Amusingly, afterwards, it is entirely possible they will only recall some of the times the question was asked.

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