by Sophina Rajah
We are living in a time where we need to be loud and clear about everything. It can be exhausting. The question is who is listening and are we being heard? Over the years human interaction has always fascinated me, especially within the world of business. In the world today it has become the norm to expect that a person will keep their phones with them, on loud and ready to be answered when in a conversation with someone 1-2-1 or in a meeting with several people. It has become acceptable to answer a phone in a meeting and say, "I'm in a meeting, can I call you back?"??? This still never ceases to amaze me.
I often eat out and recently at a restaurant I asked the waiter something about the ingredients on the menu, but before I finished asking my question he was giving me an answer to something completely different because he picked up on some “key words” he heard me say. The varying tones, accents and common words also make a huge difference. For example, something very simple like the word “address” is not widely understood in the UAE since the word “location” commonly replaces this. Another example is if I say “it’s quite far” I’ve noticed a huge difference when converting that to “too much far” which is much more readily understood – have I lost anyone yet?
It does differ across nationalities and cultures, but the underlying point is how powerful listening can be.
Listening is much more than hearing what a person says. It is being able to deeply connect and empathise, listening to just listen, not to respond. Deep listening means we show curiosity, real interest and concern as our attention is undivided. Being heard by a person is not the same as listening, being the person who is listening we do not get to decide if the person has been "heard" or not. When a person feels heard and understood, this qualifies as real listening. When we emphasise and insist on being heard by a person and do this by repeating or paraphrasing what has been said this is nothing more than affirming that our ears are working. We are not successful when we heard the spoken words clearly, we are successful when the person speaking feels heard and understood.
Recently I made a conscious effort to put my phone away when in meetings. I did this because of how I noticed I felt when someone was distracted by the light on their phone, the notifications or even if it was ringing on silent. Even though they wouldn’t answer the call, I knew I had lost their attention and that made me lose mine! I felt as though my words were not being taken in, really listened to and that I had to rewind and repeat to get the person “back” in the room with me. This has happened countless times for a while and so I had made a conscious effort to ensure that my phone is on silent and put away out of sight when in a conversation with someone. I know this may not always be possible, but actually we can try harder just to be more present and see how much of a difference it makes to our relationships and life in general.
Creating the right environment to ensure we are listening is paramount to the encounters that we have. We do countless things some of which we are totally unaware of that impact our ability to be fully present and able to listen deeply. Judgement, we are all guilty of this even if subconsciously. If we go into conversations with an "empty bucket" we will find ourselves ready and open to take in and digest to learn, understand and empathise. Dialogue is made up of multiple people engaging, speaking and listening, however when we fail to listen it is usually due to a few things. We are eager to answer a question, we are eager to correct someone, we become defensive, we interrupt, we allow ourselves to become distracted.
Perhaps some of these have resonated with recent interactions you have had, or perhaps all of the above? What truly impacts and shapes the quality of engagements that we have is the ability to demonstrate that we are listening with authenticity. This will look different for different people as we all carry our own unique styles and view of the world but what are the simplest ways we can alter and improve our conversations to improve this life changing skill.
Show and BE curious.
"Tell me more"
These are simple yet powerful words which make a huge impact to the way we listen and connect to a person, what they're saying, thinking and feeling. It creates a safe space for a person to be open and transparent. It builds trust and often is the catalyst to helping us find common ground which is needed most when conflict arises. When we listen deeply and openly without judgement it opens up possibilities which can previously never have been considered.
Listening is a skill that can and should be learned. It is probably one of the most underrated yet most essential skills of our time. If human beings changed their beliefs and behaviours around how we listen we would see a massive shift across all spheres of life; politics, businesses, medicine, celebrities, families, simply everyone.
Be prepared to be the last one to speak and see what changes for you. It sends a powerful message and actually improves what you take in, digest and fully process whether in a room full of people or in a one-to-one conversation.
If you do so really carefully, you will also be able to hear the things that are not being said. Maybe it’s worth trying on in your next meeting or conversation. Go with an empty bucket, even go a step further and put your phone away on silent and see how different the interaction is. Our undivided attention really is a rare and true gift to give someone.