Listening is one of those skills that we often feel we have mastered. Most individuals who attend a listening skills seminar will say that they may need some help with their speaking technique, but they are good listeners. After all, listening is a passive skill, right? Once participants take a listening assessment, they realize that instead of listening to understand what the other person is saying, they are often thinking about their response, interrupting the speaker to add comments, or daydreaming while the speaker is sharing.
Let’s tackle the poor listening habit of interrupting the speaker to add personal examples. Many people think that adding stories to the conversation while another person is speaking is supportive. The truth is, when you add stories or examples when another is sharing, you are not listening to the person speaking; you are directing the conversation. The person sharing feels discounted, and is often unable to finish his or her thoughts. Interrupting to add comments shows that you are less interested in the speaker’s experience and more interested in yours. This is quite a tough habit to break if you are used to conversations in which people interrupt each other. For some, the noise and energy are fun, and it feels as though everyone is enjoying the mutual exchange.
Here is the communication challenge for this month.
- 1) During the next week, observe how you participate in conversations. Do you allow the speakers to completely finish their thoughts or stories without any added comments from you? After they share, do you pause and reflect on their comments before developing a response, or do you jump right in with your own stories? Observe how others listen. You will find that most people do not listen well—they listen for a short while and then interject comments to redirect the conversation. Do you do that too?
- 2) Over the next few weeks, consciously focus on the message being presented by the speaker. Don’t consider what you will say when she/he is finished, even if you disagree with the speaker. Listen carefully so you fully understand the presenter’s message; don’t interrupt or add comments. After the presenter has finished speaking, pause, reflect on what she/he said, and then form a response. If you listen without interrupting, the presenter will often share in more depth and will appreciate that you gave your time and attention to hear his/her thoughts and ideas.
This simple listening technique will make a huge difference in your listening practice. You have started your journey to effective listening!