One thing you should be listening more to is yourself. Accurate “Self-Awareness” is critical to successful communication and information processing.
My method is:
Two Sentences. Then Shut Up and listen!
Like many other skills there seems to be those folks that just naturally have the skill and those that don’t.
However, that doesn’t mean that those that were born with the ability to talk less and those that struggle to talk less can’t both get better at this this skill.
There are a number of reasons why you want to talk less.
#1 – If you talk less you listen more by definition.
Your brain has a limited amount of capacity. If it is actively engaged in trying to talk, it cannot be actively engaged in trying to listen.
#2 – By appearing to listen more you will appear more engaged.
You don’t even have to actually be listening to the other communicators, as long as you appear to be listening.
Of course, if you are not talking and appearing to listen, then the amount of effort required to actually listen is very small.
#3 – By listening more you might actually understand the other parties to the communication better.
#4 – By listening more you give the other communicators a better chance of making their points.
Notice this is a very short section. As it should be!
The Skill to Be “Present”
There’s so much nuance taken for granted about the dance of human interaction.
It’s all too common, I think for folks to engage in conversation in a way that’s passive.
Hearing, but not truly listening.
Coming to the metaphorical table without the intention or self-awareness necessary to make the most of the experience.
Our role in Communication starts with being “Present.”
Presence is a foundational part about being able to understand someone in conversation and unpack some of those needs and motivations that they might be bringing to a given conversation.
It’s a basic, basic part of being able to connect with someone.
If I am not present in a conversation, in a meeting, I’m going to necessarily lose out because my attention is elsewhere, so I’m going to lose out on the information that’s being communicated. The meaning that’s being communicated. The emotion that’s being communicated.
All of that is just not accessible to me if my attention is elsewhere.
On the other hand, if I’m able to be present in conversation, I’m going to catch all of the subtle cues.
The nonverbal gestures.
The way your voice changes when you talk about a certain topic.
The way your pacing changes.
The way your eye contact changes.
I’m going to be able to tune in to all of that, and that’s going to give me more information, and better information to make sense of.
And it also creates a feeling for the other person that they’re really being heard.
You can tell when someone is absolutely present, and you can tell when someone is distracted, even semi-distracted.
It all registers the same where we can interpret that potentially as, “Well, the other person isn’t interested in what I have to say or they don’t think that what I have to say is important enough or they’re dismissive of my ideas.”
All of those things really hinder our ability to connect with someone.
Whether or not those things are true.
Maybe you know, the other person isn’t being present because they just got pinged on their phone, and they forgot to put it away, and it has nothing to do with us, but it can feel that way.
And so staying present is an absolutely foundational part of a conversation because it’s really what allows us to accept, integrate, open up to all of this information gathering that we eventually make meaning from, and it’s what invites the other person to keep going.
Staying present is our responsibility as good communicators, and it’s a skill that can be learned.
The three elements of presence
- Self-awareness- really knowing what you need in a conversation in order to stay present.
Labeling is a common technique used by psychologists and practice in cognitive behavioral therapy for managing specifically emotions.
And the reason it’s relevant to staying present is that sometimes what is distracting us from staying present and listening fully to our conversation partner, is that we’re feeling some kind of emotion and that can distract us.
So for example, maybe I am feeling some kind of anxiety during a conversation for whatever reason.
If I can recognize that feeling and mentally label it and say, “Oh, this is my anxiety that’s coming up right now, my heart is racing a little bit, I’m feeling a little bit lightheaded, this is my anxiety in action,” that can help us to temper that feeling and come back to the present.
So there’s something about saying it aloud or saying it in our heads, at least giving it a name, that allows us to better manage it, so that we can return to the presence.
And that is true, whether you are managing something as potentially interruptive as anxiety or any thought that comes into your head, it doesn’t have to be an emotion, it could be a to-do list that’s coming into your head in the middle of an important conversation with a peer at work.
So you can use that same technique of labeling to say, “Oh you know what? I’m starting to get distracted, my mind is going elsewhere, let me come back to the present.”
You’re recognizing what’s happening for you mentally in a given moment, you’re labeling it, and then you’re able to return to the conversation.
Simply articulating the emotion, the feeling, the distraction can disempower it, and it doesn’t only have to be true for negative distractions or feelings?
It can be true for positive ones too, I imagine, just as you can be thrown off by anxiety in the course of a conversation, you can probably be thrown off by over excitement too, so it sounds like a useful way to kind of temper yourself to stay even-keeled, and I imagine that’s where we want to be is on an even-keel in conversation.
Energy and self-awareness
Anyone who has ever shown up to work hungover or tired after, you know, having their kid wake up in the middle of the night or just staying up late to hit a deadline or falling into a Netflix binge, whatever it may be, anyone who’s ever tried to have a conversation with less than, you know, the usual level of gas in the tank that you might operate knows that it’s really hard.
It’s hard to stay present. You’re easily distracted. It’s hard to concentrate. It’s hard to focus.
It’s very easy, on the other hand, to tune out, to think about sleep that you didn’t get, for example.
So our energy levels play a big role in our ability to stay present.
That may be a function of sleep. It can also be a function of food.
So for some people, having an important meeting right before lunch is not a good idea, because they’re so distracted by their own hunger that they can’t fully be present.
For other people, having that important meeting two hours after lunch is not a good idea because they’re in the middle of that afternoon slump that we all experience that, you know, 2:00 to 3:00 PM or even 1:00 to 3:00 PM, lull, where energy levels naturally dip before they come up again toward the end of the day.
So time of day is also important.
And then the other thing to think about in terms of your personal energy levels is what I call your personal Achilles heel, and that’s really what you need to stay present.
And so, when it comes to energy, one of the things that is helpful to you consider is, for example, how introverted or extroverted are you?
Are you the type of person who has loads of energy by your fifth meeting or conversation of the day?
Or are you completely depleted, and you can only muster one or two a day?
That’s really important to know.
And so with each of these, it’s really about knowing what you’re working with, what you’re bringing into a conversation in order to stay present.
It’s better to say, “You know what? I really slept poorly last night. I really want to be here for this conversation. And I’m afraid that if we press forward, I’m not going to give you the attention that you deserve. Is it okay if we reschedule this for tomorrow?”
That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say.
And what it does is it shows the other person that you respect them enough and you take them seriously so much that you want to ensure that you can give them your full attention rather than pressing forward and risking that even though you do want to be there for this conversation, you’re distracted, you’re tired, you are emotionally fatigued, all of those things can come off to the other person as disinterest, disdain, right?
- Trust – allowing for the other person to share in a way that we’re not worrying about forgetting something, at the same time, so we’re trusting that we can be there for the other person fully.
This is not about trust in the other party in the conversation.
This is more about trust in ourselves.
One of the things that can distract us, that can get in the way of our being present is this idea that if we don’t express something now in the conversation we’ll lose it forever.
So for example, if I’m really excited about the topic of conversation, if I have an idea that I want to add, if I have a question that I want to ask, a critique, whatever it may be, I feel it’s super, super important in thinking about that I’m actually distracting myself from the conversation.
You can’t do both at once.
You can’t rehearse your question or your opinion while also listening to the other person.
And often what keeps us in that mental cycle of just really kind of ruminating on what I want to say, what I want to get out there, is that we are afraid that we’re going to lose this crucial point.
And so trust is really about trusting in ourselves that we will remember what is important.
Usually the thing that is most important is not forgotten.
Usually if it’s forgotten by the end of the conversation it probably wasn’t that important to begin with.
So it’s really about trusting in yourself so that you can be there for the other person and be really present for the other person.
The other area that trust comes up in is when it comes to things like note taking.
Note taking is usually something that we do when again we don’t trust that we will retain what’s most important from a conversation.
Sometimes note taking is absolutely necessary. There’s no way around it. This is a very detailed meeting. You need those stats, that’s fine.
But I think many times we rely on note taking as a little bit of a crutch.
We don’t need to be jotting down nearly as much as we’re jotting down. And what we’re doing when we’re taking notes is, again we’re inadvertently taking ourselves out of the conversation because we’re transcribing.
And it’s difficult to do those things, to really listen well, to jot things down, to respond, to react, to nod, to encourage more conversation, to ask a good follow up question, when you are in the process of taking notes.
It can put a little bit of distance between you and the other person.
- Patience. – making space for others to finish their thoughts, to process, to show up in a conversation fully.
Well, trust is really about helping us receive what others have to say, and patience is creating that space.
It’s what we’re offering in return once we kind of turn down that inner voice, and so patience is about not interrupting.
It’s about not jumping in to finish the other person’s sentences.
So even if you are very close with that person, and think I know exactly what they’re going to say jumping in sometimes can feel like a bonding experience, but sometimes can feel like, again, you’re kind of just taking the mic away from the other person.
So patience is really about teaching yourself to wind down in a conversation as opposed to winding up.
Some of us perpetually are kind of sitting at the edge of our seats in conversation. We’re always ready to chime in, and it’s a way of connecting, and that can be lovely but also sometimes it can be distancing.
It can cut off what was going to be said. It can close a conversation.
And so patience is about practicing giving people space, and taming that inner voice, noticing when it’s happening. “Oh, you’re getting really excited about this. Okay, let’s let that go.” And so it builds on many of the other tenants that we were talking about to really create space for someone else in a conversation.