Written by: Christina Vestey
Living in an age where we can connect with pretty much anyone at any time. It seems we have lost the art of listening. With phones always by our side and social media incessantly sending notifications. It’s hard not to be distracted at some point when having a conversation with someone. And yet, too often, we miss the essence of what somebody is reaching out to tell us. Pulling out your phone to check an incoming message or quickly get an Instagram update is a blatant way of saying to the other person or people, I’d rather be doing something else; what your saying hasn’t grabbed my attention enough. It shows a lack of respect. Yet we all do it and tolerate it of others even though it doesn’t feel great to be on the receiving end.
It’s undeniable when someone is not paying attention on the phone. You can hear their distraction. Their voice drifts, their reactions often miss the point, or worse, you can hear them typing away on their computer. I think we overestimate our ability to multitask. No matter how good we think we can do it, generally, we lose something in each task every time.
The advantages of being present and being a good listener are huge and impact relationships, whether at home, with friends, or in the workplace. The reality is we can’t be present in a conversation and at the same time check our Instagram, emails, or whatever it may be. So how do we cultivate being present with our communication?
I know I have been guilty of all of the above except when it comes to my work. Then, I do give my full attention no matter how casual the conversation. Why haven’t I done the same for my friends and family? The worst part is it almost becomes a habit! Realising this, I have had to work hard to change things, and all I can say is that the benefits are surprising and so worth it. The conversations become more meaningful. Taking the time to consider responses can be somewhat illuminating as you challenge your own values and belief systems. It has not gone unrecognised either, and to hear thank you for listening; thank you for hearing me, are words that make you realise the importance of taking the time. So here are some tips to become a better listener.
- Number one on the list is to keep that phone and computer out of sight or on silent when you are with someone. When you are on the phone, sit down and see it as an opportunity to relax.
- If it’s not a good time and you have to continue what you’re doing, tell the person, and then they have the choice to call back or come over another time.
- Focus on the moment and try and picture what the person is saying.
- Every time you see yourself thinking about other things bring yourself back to the conversation and refocus. You will notice you do this less and less.
- Be curious. When we approach a conversation thinking we are giving someone our time as an act of generosity, that’s just pretending. When we are curious, we have questions and see it as an opportunity to learn more about a person, their situation, or the topic. Curiosity is where the magic is in a conversation and makes it truly dynamic and engaging.
- Try not to interrupt. Interrupting a conversation opens up room for misinterpretation and can silence the other person from saying what they wanted to say.
- Repeating back what the person has said shows you are listening. It is a known way to see if you have understood what they mean. It allows them to rephrase what they have said if need be.
- Take time to respond. The space in time we have before we respond is very powerful – it offers us the opportunity to grow and expand our thoughts.