Listen & learn
Over the past few months, I have been interested in the art of listening. I know this is a topic that is widely researched, written about, and almost talked to death over, but I'm approaching it a little differently.
Classic content about listening well lists the steps you need to follow in order to be a good listener; and most of them, I completely agree with. For example, don’t think about what you’re going to say once the other person is done talking, go with the flow, let the conversation develop naturally instead of trying to steer it, DON’T multitask… These things help you listen and really be engaged in what you’re talking about and who you’re talking to.
But let’s take this conversation about listening a step further so that we can understand why we probably aren’t the best listeners. I am mostly considering millennials while describing my thoughts on this subject because we tend to be the worst at it. I wouldn’t say this is because of bad manners, it's just based on the fact that we have been operating in an extremely technological (and distracting) environment, and we have not had to develop the listening skills that other generations have.
Listening is not just about giving your attention to whoever you’re speaking to, it’s more about awareness. This awareness doesn’t just exist in conversation, but in multiple facets of everyday life. It can be listening while you’re reading, watching something, or even listening to yourself and your thoughts (kind of new-age, I know). Being aware of your environment and understanding why things are happening the way they are happening is a form of listening that takes time and concentration to develop. This awareness, if developed, will be the one of the strongest teachers you will ever have.
I recently started a job where I spend multiple hours a day researching. I research news, social media, blog sites, industry trends, and different businesses. If you know me, you know I am not the type to sit behind a desk all day... I'm a classic chatterbox. But somehow, the fact that I am being challenged to really focus and listen to the things I’m being exposed to, has been a huge game-changer in the way I am communicating, especially in my personal relationships. To me, this has been odd. I feel more of a natural tendency to actually hear and process what the other person has to say, instead of thinking about my opinions and ideas on the subject matter while they’re talking.
I have been trying to figure out why this change is happening. It dawned on me the other day as I was listening to a TED Talk by Celeste Headlee, 10 ways to have a better conversation.
She says, “If your mouth is open, you’re not listening.”
I’m learning to listen because I physically can’t have a conversation with my computer! I’m developing awareness because I’m beginning to value the information I’m gaining everyday just by being attentive to something that isn’t about, well…me.