Better conversation obviously requires listening, this article is by one of the best listeners I know, my good friend (and behavioral Scientist) Dallas fell:
My Own Crash Course in “Listening”
Today I would like to share a few key things I have learned over the past couple of years about listening, which can massively increase your quality of life.
The Context – Our Attachment to and Connection with Others:
So much of our quality of life is caught up with how we connect with others. The warmth of our connections comes down to many things . . .
- How we greet our friends and family, saying their name and looking them in the eye with a big smile and even a giant hug each time we meet to let them know how much we care. This may seem over-the-top and corny but notice how it feels to be on the receiving end! It’s brilliant! Just do it! (From Kim and Steve’s wisdom in The Love Safety Net Workbook.)
- Those magic moments where we just catch each others’ eye with a warm, loving look, for no particular reason.
- Figuring out what makes that person feel most loved and doing those things (e.g. from The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman). These 5 languages are:
- Quality time together
- Acts of Service
- Gifts or
- Words of Affirmation
Left to our own devices, most of us give what suits our style then wonder why our friend or partner isn’t feeling loved. If it feels forced to give what they want, do it anyway. Otherwise it’s like giving them the present you want for their birthday. Matching them is loving and respectful.
- And LISTENING!!
The power of listening in connecting with others simply can’t be over-rated.
Listening – Different Styles of Men and Women
There seems to be a real difference, in general, between the conversational styles of men and women, which causes a huge problem with listening, being heard and feeling loved.
Men tend to be far more purposeful in their conversation, and brief. Women tend to want to ramble on with every detail of a situation, good or bad. They don’t want their listener to jump in with “fix it” solutions. This can be an enormous source of frustration on both sides. Notice how your partner is responding. If you are a rambler of either sex and your partner is a fixer, acknowledge that, and explain your needs. “I know it’s probably going to be a bit hard for you, but I just need to unload my day. I don’t want you to tell me how to solve it, I just need you to listen. Is that okay?” You might want to moderate how much you say, out of caring for them if you can.
If you are a purposeful, “fix it” conversationalist, you might need to explain that your lack of conversation is not because you don’t care, and try to spend some time talking about feelings. Truly engaging when your partner is talking is going to be your biggest connection asset. Try using an interested “uh-huh” and nodding style in listening, putting everything else aside.
These changes may be subtle but will be gold in forming and growing your connection with each other.
“Records” and “Runaway Trains”
In conversation with Kim recently, she shared with me some thoughts on communication and connection, explaining how sometimes telling our “stories” can cut us off from other people.
She pointed out that most of us have “set piece” stories we tell, like records on a shelf, and we take them down and play them, swapping from one to another. They could be about about ourselves or people we know or events or situations. They might be funny, or explanations of a difficult situation in our lives, or something else compelling. They have drive and momentum, and don’t much lend themselves to interruption or interaction.
Don’t get me wrong, people are often highly valued for their ability to tell a story. So feel free. Just be conscious about it – and conscious of when to stop and reopen the conversation.
You might become aware that once you begin playing one of these “records” it is very hard to change your mind and stop. Because of this it is good to sometimes catch yourself before you begin and ask yourself, “Is this something I really need to share right now?”
Similarly, giving a detailed explanation about something in our life can help others to understand where we are “at” and to connect with us more deeply. But it is worth noticing, in the moment, whether these stories are connecting or disconnecting us from our listener. Ask yourself, “Am I being a ‘runaway train’?”
“Set piece” stories or detailed explanations of our lives can really take over a conversation and actually cut communication. They do this in several different ways:
- By tipping the fair balance of the conversation too much your way, leaving the other person feeling neglected and even resentful
- By taking up all the precious time you had together and the possibilities that held, e.g. where you could have reminisced about things you loved doing together in the past, opened up about where you are now or planned more great things for your future.
- By valuing the story above the listener, and creating a resistance to “interruption”, which would ruin the flow of what you are saying.
In retrospect, I suspect that Kim was subtly letting me know I was doing just that – with herself and others!! Around that time I had been spending close to a year supporting a friend through an extremely difficult, dangerous and complex personal and legal situation. So, if a friend asked me what was going on in my world, the whole Pandora’s box opened up. There was so much to say, to put them in the picture of my world and its challenges.
It wasn’t good for me or for the listeners. After that conversation with Kim, I learned to stop myself. I’d start in as usual and then say something like, “To give you the short version, I’m supporting a friend through a really challenging court case, so that’s been pretty central in my life. Quite a big thing.” Then if they asked for more information I’d try to keep it really brief, and try to turn the conversation elsewhere. I found it difficult, but it was truly worthwhile.
I started noticing what other “records” or set piece stories I had. A conversation would touch on a topic related to one of my stories and I’d feel compelled to take the conversation away from wherever it was going, to tell that story. Ouch. I started consciously choosing more often not to tell them, when something in a conversation triggered them. Was it going to help the person or the conversation, or just lead it back towards me? I tried to stay with the conversation and the person instead.
Four Levels of Listening
Another huge advance in my understanding of listening – which I’m still working on – came when I was fortunate enough to attend a coaching course led by Tracy Tresidder, President of the International Coach Federation of Australasia.
She taught us about four levels of listening:
1. “About Me” – Using the conversation as a way to download, hardly listening at all. In this level, the aim is to keep the “ball” of the conversation in my court. Hence, every reply can be seen as an interruption, creating a danger of the conversation leaving me or my pet concern.
2. “To Me” – Listening to what the other person was saying but always with an ear to how it related to me – my thoughts, opinions, triggers and stories (as above). In this level we are ready to “steal the ball” of the conversation off to something meaningful or compelling for ourselves.
Sometimes our related story or perspective can be helpful, but it’s worth being alert to the dangers of moving the conversation “to me”. We can easily get things wrong, here. E.g. By jumping quickly to my own associations and seeing it through my own filters, am I missing or distorting or misinterpreting the other person’s meaning or experience?
3. “To You” – Better, but a bit mechanistic. This involves allowing the person to speak and listening for content – asking clarifying questions to get information. “So when was that?” “Who?” “How many?” etc. (This is an appropriate level sometimes, e.g. when making plans and arrangements.)
4. “About You” – Listening to understand. Being open to the emotions, values, fears, hopes, vision and attitudes the person is sharing. Being curious about how that experience is for them and staying with it, no matter how powerful the pull to share how it relates to your own experience or others you know (which can distort your understanding and make the person feel abandoned in the conversation). At this level, we are less conscious of ourselves and how we are coming across. Our intuitions activate. We can sense whether the person needs something – words or help – but often to be truly listened to is the most precious gift and help someone can receive from us.
I am a real L-Plater (Australian learner driver) with this, but am noticing more how I’m doing, being more aware of when I got it wrong – and right – so that’s a step forward.
I am learning to ask the right questions to get going with Level 4, like, “So how are you?” and then actually waiting to hear and listening, or “What’s been happening for you?” and staying with the conversation as it goes from there. I have most trouble with my sisters, and seem to end up doing Level 1 the whole time. Grrrr! Maybe they are masters of Level 4 themselves and sometimes I just need to appreciate that!
As a cautionary tale and a motivator for me, I have a friend that I love, but I often stamp my foot in frustration after a conversation with her, when I’ve ended up knowing more about the health and wellbeing of a long lost acquaintance of hers from far away than I do about hers! I’ve shared my problem with her now, and gained her permission to interrupt with a smile sometimes, saying “Yes, yes! Now, about you!”
Being able to talk with our friends and family about how we talk with our friends and family will open up more possibilities for warm love and connection.
Try not to be afraid of feedback. Whether it’s delivered with a brickbat or a feather (as in Kim’s feedback to me, above), it shows they still care, and want you to start getting it right.
One of my favourite quotes is on the joy of negative feedback:
When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care. – Randy Pausch
So get those L-Plates on and have a go! More warmth and connection awaits!
Note – Dallas has written a series titled a Strategy for Building Trust. Part 1 is online today in our members area.
Not a member? Check out the details HERE!