Here is the sixth in a series of brief (this one is a bit longer) blogs introducing The Relationship Journey in my chapter on Active Listening from The Journey Inside. Today is all about Active Listening (part 2 of 3).
The opportunity to actively listen to another person should not be underestimated. It is an honour and a privilege. To be in this space will have been earned, it is not a given. People don’t open up to just anyone.
At an unconscious level, we are always testing the other person out. How much can I reveal to them before they signal me to stop or when they can’t take any more? This can be revealed, for example, in the speaker starting to get emotional about something, maybe even tearful. Rather than letting the speaker express themselves fully, the listener seeks to interrupt, change the subject, make a joke, anything to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
All of our good work can be quickly undone if we allow ourselves to get distracted.
There are many, so here are three of them
Technology is the most obvious and the most cited as being a distraction. Anyone sitting in front of you whilst you are talking who has their mobile in their hand or on the table, their laptop open in front of them, will have some of their attention on their device. It does not matter how good we think we are at not doing so, we can’t help but notice. Every message appearing, every buzz, vibration, or bleep, will be heard and registered. Even if they don’t look, their mind is now wondering about the interruption.
It is said that even if the mobile is on the table in front of you, whether it is face down and/or switched off, the depth and quality of what is shared will be more shallow and poorer. It is like having a third chair around the table and metaphorically, any of our contacts turning up and speaking. With that as the scenario, the speaker will be less forthcoming.
The solution is simple, turn it off and put it out of sight.
During his recent concert tour, Ed Sheeran decided that he would prohibit the use of mobiles in the auditorium. They used lockable bags so that the owner could keep hold of their phones. In the event of a call, the owner had to go out of the auditorium to get it unlocked.
He reasoned that when a large proportion of the audience is experiencing the concert through a screen, firstly, they are not getting the full experience and second, and more importantly, he has little or no idea how the audience is reacting or responding to his music.
When the speaker, in this case, Ed, is unsure if the audience is listening, it interrupts his flow, and does not think so well, which in turn means he does not perform so well.
Which leads nicely into…
Multi-tasking or multi-focusing
If I asked for a yes or no as to whether or not you can multi-task, most people would say, “Yes, of course”. On one level I would agree. After all, we can drive a car, listen to the radio and talk to the person next to us. For sure, the quality of our listening goes down, and some may argue, our driving too. Not so bad, but enough for it to be noticeable.
This goes well whilst the driving is easy, the conversation light, and the radio is playing music. We can easily flip-flop between all three.
Where it goes wrong or has to shift quickly is when something significant happens on any one of these three streams. For example, the traffic comes to a standstill suddenly causing you to take evasive action, or you hear on the radio that an explosion has happened in central London and there are hundreds of dead or injured. When this happens, you cease multi-tasking and start focusing.
I believe that we can’t multi-focus, and we certainly can’t multi-focus when we are actively listening.
Bring to mind a conversation where you were talking, and you knew you were not getting the listener’s full focus or attention. We just knew, didn’t we?
The solution is to give the speaker your full attention. For the duration of this conversation, believe that the speaker is the most important person in your life. If you can’t do this, then explain to the speaker what is going on and agree when you will be able to be fully present. The speaker will appreciate your honesty.
One of the biggest complaints I receive from individuals is that they get interrupted before they have finished speaking. I am sure you can think of many situations where you have been interrupted, and if you are really honest, where you have interrupted someone.
Why do we do it?
- We know best or think we do.
- We know what you are going to say.
- I am too busy, so interrupting gets things done quicker.
- I am excited, so I have to speak.
- They need to get their words out quicker.
- I have just thought of something, I was triggered by what the speaker said.
- You want to feel part of the conversation, not speaking is difficult. Yes, it is!
- Everyone else is doing it…so that makes it okay.
But, it is not okay.
Responses from the exercise on non-listening, include, it is rude and disrespectful.
Having said all of this, if you have to interrupt do so politely.