If you think communicating is all about talking, think again. How often do you catch yourself thinking of what to say next before the person you’re talking to has even finished his or her thought? How often do you focus intently and listen to what’s being said? Effective listening is as important as what is being said.
The problem is that staying with your “Partner” (friend, colleague, spouse, child, etc.) and not letting all those past thoughts and experiences jump in and affect your thinking is very, very difficult. You know, when someone says “I had a bad day” and you immediately want to say, “I know! My car had a flat and my boss chewed me out when I was late to work!” You haven’t really heard a word that person has said…
The much touted art of listening is one of the things I’m really working on. And it is an art! It requires practice, patience and most of all discipline – not my favourite practice by a long shot.
It means more than sitting still and looking at your Partner. You listen, in fact, with your whole body. For instance, eyes must remain focused on your Partner and not wandering around the room – a sure sign you’re NOT listening! Don’t you hate it when you’re talking with someone and they keep looking over your shoulder to see who’s coming into the room?
Consider the positions of your arms and legs – legs crossed with the top foot pointing towards the Partner signals “I’m interested”, while arms crossed across the chest might indicate a defensive frame of mind. Think about your body language as a listener and stop to consider that you are signalling your engagement at a subconscious level not only to your Partner, but internally to yourself, as well.
It means not multi-tasking at the same time you’re on the phone with someone – regardless of whether it’s a friend or a business partner – and taking the time, instead, to look for inflections of voice, emotional reactions or hesitations that convey a broader picture of what is – or isn’t – being said.
In this age of texting vs. talking, the art of communicating through listening seems to be coming up a little short. Maybe it’s worth dusting off the land line and making a call rather than sending an email or SMS. Perhaps sitting down with a Partner – whoever that might be – and having a real two-way conversation over a cup of tea or a latte.
And when you do, pause and really listen!