Want to know which gift you can give your loved ones that is increasing in value faster than Auckland house prices? It's the gift of quality listening. To really listen. To hear what's really being said, and to hear what's not being said (which is often far more telling).
To do so well requires more of the commodity that is under the most increased demand - our attention. There is so much competition for our attention now. Diversions abound. Studies have shown we check our phone an average of 120 times a day! A day! Our phones are needier than a newborn, and it's diluting not just the quantity but the quality of the attention we give to each other. The quality of our listening goes down as we mistake listening for cueing, and attend more with the purpose of finding the gap to jump in with our point than to hear what's really being said.
It's occurred to me that the time when we get 100 per cent of someone's attention is disturbingly rare. I had a friend who was extraordinary adept at turning the conversation back to herself. Literally, two degrees of conversational separation, every time. Leading in with the obligatory "How are you?" followed by one perfunctory follow-up question I barely answered, and BAM, social niceties satisfied we would charge headlong into her stuff again. I am not sure she ever really heard a word I said. She was so focused on getting to say her stuff that my stuff felt like the warm-up act.
Obviously there are always ebbs and flows in a conversation and a relationship, but watch for the pattern. If someone is only listening to you in order to find a neat segue for their own stuff, well, that's not really listening is it? It's cueing. It's listening for a cue to get their stuff in there. Cueing is not listening. It's very much the poor cousin of listening. It's second-class listening because it's all about the purpose of interjecting rather than to understand what's being said.
There is so much gold when we stop and truly listen. When we dig below the surface, even just a little bit. I see people blossom before my eyes just from having someone listen to them wholeheartedly. I think one of the foundational reasons why coaching is so effective is because it is a process of active, truly active, and empathetic listening. When I am coaching I am 100 per cent with that person. Non-negotiable. My stuff can wait. I am listening at 100 per cent.
Can we do this all the time? No, and neither do we want to. It's really energy intensive, the days are short and it's just not possible to listen at 100 per cent in every interaction. However I think there is a real argument for us to select at least one interaction a day where we choose to build and deepen connection by giving 100 per cent empathetic attention. Our energy and our attention are gifts and taking the time to really listen can transform people. Feeling truly heard by another human being is an increasingly rare experience in our progressively digital and sound bite-driven world. But when it happens, it feels amazing.
Here are some active listening questions to get you started:
Tell me more about that?
That sounds really interesting. What was the best/worst moment?
Wow. That's fascinating. Tell me more about how that happened/why you chose to do that?
What happens next for you with that/him/her? What would you like to have happen?
Once a day, select someone special to bestow the gift of deliberately dialling up the quality of your listening. Challenge yourself by digging down and asking a minimum of three follow-up questions, not the obligatory one. Listen. Really listen. Not just with your ears. Listen with your heart and your soul. When we really listen up it's amazing what we can hear.