Over the course of a few months I began to assess my immediate and extended family, my spouse and my own abilities to listen. A social experiment of sorts, which focused on self-awareness and active listening skills. I would venture to guess that most people would label themselves as good listeners. Myself included.
How strong are my listening skills?
I noticed my own tendency to drift in thought or to interject in conversations. That happened mostly in my personal life but professionally I tended to stay on point with active listening. A distinction that needs work so as not to discriminate between who gets attention and where.
For the most part I enjoy different perspectives on life, relationships and world issues. I’m genuinely interested in knowing people better. However, certain family members are particularly good at hitting sensitive nerves so then ears can close and defensive shields go up. Still working on those trigger responses.
Overall, I would describe myself as a good listener with room for improvement.
Was my assumption that I was not being heard realistic?
I came to realize others were not offering the same degree of listening time, presence and genuine interest as I gave them. So, I began to conduct random post analysis of natural conversations.
When opportunities arose for my family and spouse to talk freely about a topic I would listen carefully. I’m pretty sure that my verbal and non-verbal cues demonstrated interest. (Absent of any triggering episodes)
Curiously, when I began to share my thoughts I noticed a distinct difference in most people’s capabilities to listen. It was as if a switch went off and all the energy that propelled them forward to talk about their topics had been expended and there was nothing left for listening.
Here’s what I experienced:
No eye contact
Quick to acknowledge other people, things and/or pets, without apology, while I was speaking
Interrupted to passionately impose their own opinion and raised voice to be heard
Completely ignored topic(s) and deflected to what they wanted to talk about (“That’s like me….”)
Picked up phones in the middle of a conversation to scan Twitter, or check incoming email
Got up to leave or go do something else ( Their excuse: ” Oh, I thought you were finished talking” or “I just needed to….)
Silent: Asked no questions to better understand points, nor used words like, “Really?” or “Uh, huh.”
Body language showed disinterest and they lacked empathy
To counteract their apparent disinterest I stopped mid-sentence just to see what would happen. Some people were oblivious to the odd stop and other’s were jarred out of their mind fog enough to offer a faint bit of interest….and then it was gone again.
I also experimented with what I’ll call, “Goldfish Attention Span” talking. I kept speech short with simple words. Still no signs of life or interest. I tried being more animated in tone and body to command the stage, as it were. That worked a bit but I still wasn’t getting active listening beyond that point.
After observing their inability to be attentive I would transition back to something I know they like to talk about and miraculously they were engaged again.
Maybe I’m too boring. Maybe I talk too much. Maybe what I’m talking about is over their heads. Maybe listening is easier when it’s catchy comments or profanity laced dialogue. Maybe they are self-centered or rude. Maybe WE struggle with being present.
Maybe listening skills need to be developed and consistently improved upon in order to be effectively applied to our personal and business relationships.
Check out these Tips on Active Listening:
MindTools Article and Video
Dr John Gottman’s Top 10 Skills for Active Listening
- Focus on being interested, not interesting
- Start by asking questions
- Look for commonalities
- Tune in with all your attention
- Communicate that you are listening with a nod/sound
- Paraphrase what the speaker says
- Validate the speakers emotions
- Maintain eye contact
- Let go of your agenda
- Turn off the TV or anything else that is distracting