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Tips To Listening Better From A Lifelong Listener

The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time. Giving your time goes beyond simply just being there. What good is your time if you’re not present? A big part of being present involves doing something that people really just don’t do very much. I would say people don’t do it anymore but in my lifetime (which hasn’t been very long), I don’t recall there ever being a great time of listening. The skill of listening has declined over time with the advent of mobile technology. Now it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone without them checking their phone every four minutes. Further, in a world of instant gratification people only listen long enough to sort of hear what you’re saying to think of their response.

I am a listener. I have always been a listener. I rather talk than listen. That may seem odd for someone who aspires to public speaking, but not really. The one thing a listener really wants is to be heard. People like me spend our lives being present in conversations, not picking up our phones, and clarifying what we just heard. Unfortunately, the favor is rarely returned. One of the many things I have observed as a listener is that people are so used to not being listened to that they will just keep talking until you interrupt them. I get this a lot. I’m listening as a person speaks for five, even ten minutes straight without a break. I rarely interrupt. I don’t like interrupting or being interrupted. Since I don’t interrupt, the person will eventually stop speaking and ask why I’m not contributing or saying anything, almost in frustration. To which I reply “I’m listening to you”. There is almost always a look of shock. People often speak so fast or so much in anticipation of being interrupted. But alas, as a listener 90% of the time, I’m going to let you talk.

I have also come to believe that people are largely unaware of the habits that are making others feel unheard. I’m using heard and listen interchangeably here, but I do distinguish between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the observation of sound. Listening is interpreting the sound (in this case talking), comprehending it, and reacting accordingly. I do sometimes say “I don’t feel heard” to mean the same as listening. Now with that out of the way, here are tips to becoming a better listener from a life long listener.

Put Down The Device

It really isn’t necessary to have the phone in your hand while talking to someone. I typically don’t even bring my phone to meetings. If it’s a meal, I usually leave it in my bag. I know. It’s just a quick glance. But typically that quick glance is right in the middle of someone else’s story. Or what’s quick to you is much longer to them. If you’re expecting an important message, then set the expectation with the person at the beginning. I have attended meetings where every single person is typing on their computers or punching away at their phones. Yes, everyone is busy. But somehow listeners manage to listen to everyone and get their work done too. For one week when you attend a meeting or hang with friends, leave the phone at the desk or in the car. You can’t give someone your time if your nose is buried in a screen.

Resist The Urge To Interrupt – Better Yet, Don’t

The reason I don’t interrupt is because I’m focused on what the person is saying. I do interrupt at times. Sometimes it’s out of excitement, other times the person may have misunderstood a piece of information and needs a course correction. Sometimes I interrupt because I realize the person won’t stop talking until I do or I just want to say what I want to say. The reason you shouldn’t interrupt isn’t simply because it’s rude. You can’t understand what the other person is saying, feeling, or thinking if you’re talking over them. The message you’re unintentionally sending is that what they want to communicate doesn’t matter to you. You have something to say and you’re going to say it. This is also how misunderstandings get started. I have amazing recall for conversations, not because I have an incredible memory, it’s because I’m listening in the first place. For one week don’t interrupt anyone for any reason.

Repeat What They Say

A great technique for active listening is to repeat what the person said to you but in your own words. This lets the other person know you’re listening and solidifies the information in your own mind. A great way to do this is to say “This is what I heard you say…… Is that correct?” I once knew a person who would say they understood what I was saying but then when it was repeated back to me at a later date it was drastically different and damaging. This was completely frustrating because it meant clearly the person wasn’t listening and projected something entirely wrong on to me. For one week repeat back to the person what you heard them say in your own words. If they correct you, say it again until they agree.

Don’t Reinterpret The Message

This can be a tricky one. Some people are very direct. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Others speak in veiled language. There is a time for both. It’s going to take some knowledge of the person, but don’t assume every message is a veiled one. An example of veiled language is to say a house is cozy when it’s small. Here is another example. Once upon a time I was interviewing for a role. I asked the interviewer, who was the VP of something, what his leadership philosophy is. His response was “so what you’re really asking me is what do I do.” It was an interview so I responded with “sure”, but what I really wanted to say was “no”. I asked exactly what I wanted to know and the reinterpretation was so far off. This becomes easier as you get to know a person. You’ll know when they’re using veiled language versus being more direct. For one week just assume that people you don’t know well are saying what they mean, don’t reinterpret it.

Enjoy The Freedom

Allow the conversation to go where it goes, within reason of course. Another aspect of non-listening behavior I’ve observed is the need to keep the conversation rigid. Because the talker is talking and not listening, they want to keep the conversation focused where they want it to be. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone where you apologized for something and they just kept talking about it? They continued to talk about why they were hurt or offended or upset, and completely grazed over the apology that they seem to want so badly? We have all been there. Had the other person been listening the discussion could have been allowed to move in a different direction. One of the reasons I like listening is because, every now and again, the conversation can become so random it’s fun. You get to learn so much about people and it’s cool. It’s also freeing to just sort of go where the conversation takes you. For one week just go with the flow, within reason. I mean, if you’re supposed to be talking about fixing world hunger, you should probably stick with that.

The next time you find the other person in the conversation isn’t talking very much consider two things. One, you may be doing most of the talking and it’s time to listen; and two they are a listener and would really welcome the opportunity to talk if they know they’ll be heard. Encourage them to contribute. By the way, most great leaders are also great listeners.


Keys to Success: Define It For Yourself

Everyone, to some degree, wants success in their life. Most people want a sense of accomplishment and to feel as though their life counts for something. We do what we have to so we can eventually do what we want. Our visions of success typically start at a young age. It’s very simple, win versus lose. Then, as we become more aware of the world, it tends towards have versus have not. Add on top of that our parents’ vision of success for us – do versus don’t do. When we’re children we believe we have access to all of the possibilities of the world. This is what allows our little minds to conceive of being a chef and an astronaut. As children, we had no limits on the meaning of success. Through time and experience, those limits were given to us. Those people who are able to identify the limits and move beyond them realize something – that the meaning of success hasn’t changed from when they were children. The key to success is to first define what success means to us as individuals.

Social media has been a great invention. It connects the world to build communities of like-minded people. It brings together people with problems with those who have solutions. But the downside of social media has been a growing dissatisfaction with our lives because it also makes it very easy to compare ourselves to one another. We look at the college roommate who is a Vice President and think they are more successful, completely forgetting the fact that it was never important to us the first place. Mass media also portrays that being rich and famous is tantamount to success. But if being a good parent is important to you and you achieve that goal, then you are living in your definition of success.

How To Define Success For Yourself

Embrace your inner child.

That little voice inside of you screaming to play in the rain knows something about you. It knows exactly what you consider to be a measure of your worth. It has always known what is important to you even as you have evolved into adulthood. The inner child is like a blueprint for a house. It built the structure of who you are, but it also allows for growth, similar to adding an addition on to the house. Do one thing you enjoyed as a child. I recently discovered there are adult coloring books. I used to sit at the kitchen table or in bed with my grandma and color. I still use the technique she taught me, a thick outline around the edge of the image then stay inside the lines. I recently realized my sister uses the same technique. As you’re doing this activity, think about the emotions and memories it brings up for you. Start to reconnect with the vision you had for your life.

Release the conditioned mind.

That little voice saying you can’t do something is not serving you. It’s just the brain doing its job. The brain is actually programmed to stop change. As long as you’re alive and breathing the brain doesn’t find change necessary, even if it benefits you. The other part of the equation is that the brain brings up things that you don’t necessarily even believe. This is what has been taught to you. Your beliefs about money, relationships, other people have more to do with what you experienced in your formative years than what you have decided to believe. When these negative thoughts pop into your mind, simply thank them for their input and continue doing what you were doing. Literally, say “thank you for your input”. When we try to suppress a thought, it becomes all we think about. But when we acknowledge a thought it’s much easier to let it slip away.

Write down your plan.

The difference between a dream and a goal is a plan with a timeline. Write down what it means to be successful to you. It is important that it’s not what your company or your spouse or parents think of as success.  It should be achievable. I would love to find the cure for cancer, however, I’m not a scientist and don’t have a desire to go back to school to get a Ph.D. in oncologic biology (I don’t even know if that’s a thing). If being successful to you is about a promotion at work, write down what that level is and how you plan to get there. Once your plan is set, do not compare your progress to anyone else. Instead, you should benchmark your progress. Yes, it’s still comparison but with benchmarking you are comparing metrics to see where you are in relation to where you want to be. Example, if your goal is to be promoted in four years and on average it takes five you know you need to do some big things to cut off that year. The reverse is true as well if it takes you six or seven you need to take a look at your performance and address any deficiencies.

At the end of the day we live with ourselves. The only person that can change our circumstances is us. Defining success for yourself is the first step to achieving it otherwise you are working to achieve other people’s definitions while pushing away your own happiness.

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