A television current affairs presenter interviews a real life victim of circumstance – a substantial story. We can tell the presenter is deeply empathetic as she digs into the shape of the story. It is an amazing story, and that helps for interest value, but are not all our stories amazing? They can be once we're "inside" the person we're listening to.
And then again, we all know how hard it is to hold the attention of our own concentration, especially in the presence of uninteresting people and stories. I know that workplace morning teas and mini-parties hold little interest for many for this precise reason – with many plastic smiles draped and much irrelevant banter to be had. The problem is we're "outside" of the people we're interacting with.
The fact is this: when we invest less than our best in the listening process, and the potential for distraction is ever present, we cruel not only the person we're ingratiating, we cruel ourselves too – we reinforce our own lack of authenticity , certainly at a subconscious level.
For the little extra effort required we might as well adjust our hearts and minds to fully invest in this person's experience, by being "inside" them; actually listening like we are them. We transpose our own biases for their insight.
But this does not come in the moment. We must instead think and focus on it beforehand. It takes time and practice. It takes a heart for the other person. These practical ideas may help:
1. When planning the day, envision what interactions might come up and how you'll handle them.
2. Envisage the time when you're focus wanders and how you'll bring yourself back right into the moment in a responsive, disciplined way.
3. Seek feedback. Not by asking people how well you're listening … just simply look for feedback in the body language of people you're interacting with. Does it look to them as if you're listening really well?
4. Watch others who you consider to be good listeners; those who get "inside" the people they interact with. Keep them at the front of your mind and watch them intentionally whenever you get the chance.
The truth is, the more we focus on any particular thing to improve upon – including listening – the better the chances are that our changes will stick.
Getting "inside" the people we're trying to listen to makes the task of communication slicker and much more dynamic and interesting – for both people involved.
© SJ Wickham, 2009.