Your greatest gift

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To feel heard is one of our deepest human needs. How does it feel when you’re speaking and you can tell the other people is only partially listening, while they’re also thinking about what they want to say, or looking at a screen?

Most people find it feels pretty horrible. It can make you feel that the other person doesn’t value you, and you might wonder if it’s because you’re not interesting or intelligent enough to deserve their full attention.

Listening skills have got immeasurably worse as a result of email and smartphone addiction and it’s damaging all of our relationships: work, friends and family.

As we feel more disconnected from those around us we seek social approval on social media even more, posting in the hope that we’ll collect enough ‘likes’ to feel liked. But each click of approval is like piece of Haribo: it feels good in the moment but never truly satisfies us.

At work it’s become commonplace for people to be reading and responding to emails during meetings and even when a colleague is standing in front of you for a one-to-one conversation.

Your full attention is one of the greatest gifts you can give anyone. If you practice mindful listening, it will improve all your relationships, people will like you more, you’ll feel more connected to those around you, and you’ll notice it’s actually much more pleasant to rest your attention on what the person’s saying, rather than flitting between distractions.

As someone who came one on of my courses observed, “If you’re going to be listening anyway, you might as do it properly.”

Here’s how to practice mindful listening:

Informal Practice

Consciously decide to give your full attention to the speaker. If you find your mind wandering off, gently bring it back to what they’re saying. As much as possible, try not to interrupt, ask questions or lead the speaker. If there’s a pause in what they’re saying, allow it to be there and see if they still want to continue.

Formal Practice

Choose one person to be the speaker and one the listener. The speaker has three minutes to talk about anything they want: their challenges at work, how their day’s going or whatever they want.

The listener’s job is to just listen, without saying anything. They can acknowledge that they’re following along using their facial expressions and nodding, but that’s it.

After the three minutes the listener tells the speaker what they heard, so that the listener can know that they’ve been understood. You then switch round.

It’s a rare and sometimes uncomfortable thing to receive someone’s full attention for as much as three minutes, but it’s surprisingly powerful. I’ve had people say afterwards that it’s the closest they’ve felt to their colleague in three years of working in the same office.

I’ll end with a quote:

“You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than in two years of trying to get people interested in you.”

― Dale Carnegie

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