Today’s post is part 1 of a three part series on active listening written by our friend, Patrick Ewers. Check out Tip #2 here and tip #3 here. Patrick is an executive coach and founder of Mindmaven. You can find him on Twitter @PatrickEwers.
One of the biggest technology-driven problems I see in this society is that our minds are evolving in a way that makes them trained to be exceptionally receptive to interruptions and distracting signals. Our brains become proficient in changing the subject, adjusting what we’re looking at or how we’re perceiving something simply because we hear a notification sound on our phone.
The scary part is that it doesn’t take very long for your brain to make this switch. Very often, in just five seconds we can lose interest in one thing and move onto the next. Disruptions are so prevalent, that you might not even notice it happening. With all of these interruptions, it becomes a real challenge to rewire your brain to hold its focus on one topic.
The biggest issue is that many of us have been training our brains to not have to pay attention for long periods of time. Having laser-like focus is a critical component of being a good listener who is perceived as somebody that cares because you make people feel heard. I wrote these blog posts to hopefully help you build some best practices around becoming an active listener.
Tip #1 Lead the conversation through questions
In general, it is safe to say that if you take up less than 30% of the talking time in the meeting, then the other person will most likely report that the meeting was a good use of time. This is simply based on the fact that we, as humans, like hearing ourselves speak. Even though you might only have a third of the time to bring some of your messages across, you will probably end up winning because you let the person share their thoughts. The best way to have a great conversation is to lead with questions. Some of the most important rules here are:
1. Be genuine: Any question you ask, make sure you mean it. You need to have a certain basic interest in it, an intrinsic excitement about asking that question. It should come across as being asked with authenticity, not just asked for the sake of entertaining or getting that person to talk. The beautiful thing is that your interest is a decision that you can make. If you’re interested in learning more on how to adjust your mindset, check out the post I wrote on nailing networking events. Many successful interactions are anchored on the mindset you bring to the table. You can choose to be excited about almost any kind of question you can come up with.
2. The question is the means to an end.
Make sure you’re just as eager to hear the answer. Being attentive to the answer is absolutely necessary if you want someone feel like they are being heard. You cannot just ask a question and then start daydreaming while the other person is giving you their answer. A person’s response to your question is your opportunity to make a real connection. At the same time, it forces your mind to pay attention to what you’re hearing in response to the question you asked.
Stay tuned next Tuesday for tip #2!