Listening is a truly difficult task, and we do it, or attempt to, every day.
Even when we’re interested, even when we care about the person who is talking, listening truly and deeply is just…hard. Our minds are racing, thinking about what we need to get done, what we need to say, what the next thing on our agenda is. In all this thinking, we miss the opportunity to really hear the people around us, to listen thoroughly to what they’re saying and to what they are leaving unsaid.
How can we develop this skill? Is it enough to think, “Okay, I gotta really listen now!” I don’t know about you, but that always backfires for me. Then I’m listening to myself telling me to listen…which is not the point.
Kate Murphy, a journalist and author of the new book You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, tackled this topic in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. Her research shows that when we don’t listen because we think someone will be boring, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and she exhorts the reader to “become a better listener with practice.” But how?
Like most skills, we don’t realize where we’re lacking until we assess where we are now. Start noticing when your mind wanders, or when you want to interrupt to get your own thought in. Stretch your own capability to listen by resisting the impulse to jump in, and try asking questions that encourage the talker to go more deeply into their story.
And finally, see what it feels like when you increase your capacity to listen. What do you retain? What did you learn that you might not have?
Learn to listen in our Conversational Agility workshop–if you are in the Asheville, NC area and would be interested in an open enrollment workshop, let me know! We are putting one together right now and would love to gauge interest.