Listeners Blog


Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah

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With cellphones everywhere, we have all heard our share of one-sided conversations. Most of us automatically tune out these days, since we don’t really need to know the dinner plans of the person sitting next to us on the bus. We bring down our personal Cone of Silence to protect ourselves from involuntary eavesdropping.

Unfortunately, we can also carry this defensive inattention with us into the rest of our day. In situations where people are wearing headsets or Bluetooth devices, it might even be difficult to know whether we are supposed to be part of a face-to-face conversation, so we start listening only for clues about when we are expected to answer. We stop trying to hear what might not be important to us, ignoring that being heard might be extremely important to the person speaking.

Remember the old Far Side cartoon where the man was trying to teach his dog a trick, but all the dog heard was her name: “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah”? Staying on the surface of conversations creates a similar attitude, which makes it difficult to recognize when someone is trying to bring up an important subject, let alone respond appropriately.

We should all check in with ourselves throughout the day to be sure that we are really listening not just to the words other people are saying but to the meaning they are trying to communicate. Especially if they are actually talking to us.



Never too close to comfort

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Of all the ills that beset mankind in the 21st century, the cruelest must be Alzheimer’s disease. It robs its victims of the most precious gift of advancing age – the companionship of family and friends – by taking away the ability to have meaningful conversations.

Modern research is focused on finding the causes and perhaps a cure for or at least a way to lessen or postpone the advancement of Alzheimer’s, but it has been with us for a very long time. In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare describes our return to “second childishness and mere oblivion” as we age.

Amid the challenges and frustrations of daily caregiving for spouses or parents or grandparents suffering from dementia, it is important to take the time to follow them on their conversational journeys. The first step is to let go of your own need to keep them connected to the real world or grounded in the present.

Does it really matter that your mom thinks you are your sister, and talks like you’re not in the room? Depending on family dynamics, it might be hurtful, but what is there to be gained from an argument? Nothing but resentment on your part, since she won’t understand – or remember.

Instead, take a deep breath and think back to the patience she had when you were just learning to talk, listening to you tell the same story over and over until you got it right (for you). Maybe she even held conversations with your imaginary friends, because she knew they were real and important to you.

It may be time to return the favor, and use your active listening skills, your empathy and understanding, to let her know you’re there, no matter when or where she thinks that is. She may not appreciate it, but in the long run, you will.



How meetings go bad when no one is listening

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A properly planned and executed meeting can be an excellent way to communicate information and share ideas. But many employees dread them as unproductive time sinks — and they might be right. Research shows that half of the hours spent in the 11 million business meetings that happen every day in the United States is actually wasted on off-topic discussions. One of the most common time-wasters are people who won’t listen without making assumptions about what the speaker is saying, and insist on interrupting and offering advice without fully understanding what the speaker needs. If an individual with poor listening skills is allowed to hijack a discussion, the result can be a ripple effect of negativity on an entire team.

Imagine that, in the weekly meeting, a member of a team voiced concern that her current project seemed to have hit a wall. Before she could finish describing the problem, however, another member jumped in with a lengthy monologue about how he had solved similar problems in the past and just had to have the last word — all related to his experience, not to the project at hand.

The junior member soon stopped trying to talk, frustrated and without a resolution. Meanwhile, the rest of the group had turned their attention to emails, texts and other activities, because they knew that once this person had the floor, there was no hope of arriving at any useful decision.

The first step to avoiding this worst-case scenario is to start the meeting with all electronic devices stacked on the table, to be touched only to research a point relevant to the discussion. That will keep everyone invested in listening to everyone else and offering relevant input.

In our example, the manager should bring the conversation back to the junior member by asking how the group could help her, including the senior manager, who has already offered his ideas. Anyone running a meeting has the authority of the chair to provide a platform to anyone who might feel they are not being heard. When everyone can both express themselves and truly listen, any meeting can become more productive.



Focus your mind to find your inner truth

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There can be many reasons why you feel that you haven’t been truly heard. Perhaps instead of listening, people you talk to insist on giving you advice, or judging you for having an issue. Perhaps you have felt people spend more time thinking about their reply than to what you are saying.

Or perhaps you are having a problem focusing on your real issues. Every time you try to start a meaningful conversation, you get sidetracked into generalities or wind up talking about what’s important to the other person because you talk around what is really bothering you, especially if it is deeply painful. Even the most empathetic listener has a hard time hearing what isn’t said.

Before you ask someone to help you find your inner truth by listening, find a quiet place where you can take some time to think about the major issues you need to resolve. What is causing you the most stress and anxiety? How do you see yourself in the current situation? Are you willing to embrace whatever self-revelations you may find on your journey?

Once you focus your mind, you will be able to focus the conversation on what you need to hear from yourself. The capacity for self-insight, problem solving and growth resides inside you, but only if you are brave enough to confront your real issues and talk them through.



Mind reading and fortune telling

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What if you could see the future or know exactly what other people were thinking? Not many people can do that – it’s an extremely rare and wonderful gift.

Even without clairvoyant powers, however, it’s easy to fall into the emotional traps of mind reading and fortune telling. And rather than enhance your life, these negative mental habits can cause lots of stress and anxiety.

Mind reading is when you jump to conclusions based on how you think other people see you. You assume others have a low opinion of you without any evidence. A conversation stops when you come into the room and you “just know” they were just then saying bad things about you.

Fortune telling leads you to predict the worst possible outcome of any situation. You were nervous during an interview, so you “just know” you won’t get the job, no matter how qualified you are. When you start to act on these assumptions, you can actually create the outcome you were dreading.

The best way to avoid these thinking traps is to talk through your issues with a supportive listener. If you ask yourself out loud why you think people are talking you down behind your back, you’ll probably hear how little sense that makes. If you can share your fears and doubts, they don’t seem so overwhelming and you can find positive ways to avoid your own worst-case scenario.

Find someone who can really hear you and help you put into your own words what is keeping you from finding your inner peace. When you do find it, you’ll know the future looks brighter.



Listening Effectively at Work

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Listening Effectively at WorkIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you likely spend time thinking about how to be a better listener for your friends and family, because you truly care about how they feel and want to help them talk through important issues. But if you’re like most of us, you spend more time at work, which may or may not be with family — or friends.

That doesn’t make active listening any less important. In fact, poor communication in the workplace can have a major impact on the growth and success of the organization.

Think about your last staff meeting. Can you remember what was decided or something important that you learned? Or do you remember checking your lunch plans or texting snarky remarks about how the boss was droning on?

You’re not alone. Nearly three-quarters of professionals surveyed by Wolf Management Consultants admitted to doing unrelated work in meetings; more than a third said they had actually dozed off. So it’s fair to say that they were not actively engaged in listening.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a poorly run meeting, although you can use supportive listening techniques to enhance your communication with clients, peers and anyone else in the workplace.

Give whoever is speaking your full attention by making eye contact and turning away from distractions like pinging messages. Let the person know you are following what they are saying through nods and affirmations. Don’t interrupt, and don’t get sidetracked thinking up your response before they’ve finished speaking.

If the conversation is difficult or delicate – say, with an unhappy employee or a disgruntled customer – it can be helpful to repeat or paraphrase what you think you heard so that both parties understand they are on the same page before continuing.

Surprisingly, sometimes that’s all it takes to resolve an issue: Letting someone know that you are really, truly listening and trying to understand.



Being Both Empathetic and Real

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You want to be a supportive listener. You want to be there for your friend, you want to really hear and give the gift of understanding. But you’re having a problem finding enough empathy inside yourself to help them find their inner truth.

Maybe you hear them get stuck on a lack of material things that you don’t value. Maybe you think they are creating their own relationship conflict just to add drama to their life. Maybe you want to let them know that they have reached a cul-de-sac on their conversational journey.

It happens. We’re all human, and it’s difficult not to have an emotional reaction while listening to other people talk through their issues.

In fact, just reading about friends’ successes online can make us feel less satisfied with our own lives, according to a new study about the new phenomenon called “Facebook Envy.”

But here’s one fascinating takeaway about “Facebook Envy.” The people most likely to become jealous and frustrated are those who passively read posts and look longingly at others’ vacation photos without engaging in any active conversations themselves. Their passivity puts them in a position to be envious!

In real life, an active, engaged listener will let someone know when it sounds like they are taking an unproductive talk detour. They will speak up. To do this while still remaining supportive, you must first understand and be in command of your own feelings. Why does this particular topic cause a reaction in you as an engaged listener? Next, earnestly try to understand if there might be more going on behind the actual words being spoken.

Once you have that sorted out, it is important to let the speaker know how you are feeling. Honestly acknowledge all the emotions in play on both sides, so a deeply meaningful conversation can take place.

Helpful tip on managing emotions:

A “mysteriously” helpful exercise to lessen the awful feelings that accompany being envious or judgmental is to recognize when you are having either of these feelings and actually identify and say to yourself “envy” or “judging.” With practice, labeling these feelings becomes a powerful, helpful habit that can greatly lessen being envious or judgmental.

Let us know how this practice works for you.



Create a listening space

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This might not come as a surprise, but research continues to prove that multitasking really isn’t very efficient.

In fact, the most recent study, from the University of Utah, found that the people who thought they were the best at multitasking were more likely to be those who were most easily distracted by interruptions. Previous studies have also shown that the human brain doesn’t switch gears very rapidly; it also doesn’t retain information received from multiple sources simultaneously very well.

When it comes to actually accomplishing tasks, focused individuals — those who don’t respond immediately to every email ding or pop-up message or bright, shiny object— actually get more done.

The same is true when it comes to listening. If you really want to hear what someone is saying, you need to clear a space, not only in your day but also in your mind. Truly meaningful conversations can only take place where there are no interruptions, no distractions. That allows you the freedom to concentrate completely on what the other person is saying. Then you can truly hear and support that person as he or she talks through important issues.

Creating an interruption-free zone for a conversation shows that you are sincerely interested in what the speaker has to say, and there is nothing more important in that moment to you than hearing it. That alone can help build the kind of trust needed to begin a conversational journey to an inner truth.



Listen for the learning moment

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Did you know that the right to be heard is one of the fundamental human rights recognized by the United Nations? It was spelled out in 1989 as Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child — children have a right to express their views on decisions that affect them and have those views taken seriously in accordance with their age and maturity.

Not surprisingly, Save the Children and UNICEF found in 2011 that this article has been the most difficult to implement, even after more than 20 years of effort. While the UN says it is not possible to claim other rights without a voice, traditions in cultures around the world weigh heavily against grownups really listening to kids, let alone taking what they say seriously.

Think about some of our common Western ideas: Children should be seen and not heard. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk back to your elders. Teenagers aren’t interested in what adults have to say.

Doesn’t sound like the basis for an open dialog, does it? So it shouldn’t be a shock that the latest research shows that the best way for parents to develop a healthy relationship with their children is to listen to them.

Whenever you talk with young people, take the time to really hear what is behind their questions — do they really want to know “where babies come from” or whether the family ever moved into a new house? Give them space to form their thoughts without interruption or correction. Never make them feel silly or ashamed of asking questions just because you think you know the answers. And don’t assume you know where the conversation is going — you just might learn something new.

If you carry these rules over into conversations with adults, you will become a better listener, no matter who is speaking.



Why does “talking things through” feel so good?

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We all know what it feels like to be ignored: it can be frustrating and even anger provoking. If the situation continues for a long time, we may come to expect to be rejected and stop trying to be heard altogether.

When we close ourselves off from emotional feedback, our self-worth takes a big hit. We can begin to believe our own distorted view of who we are and wind up feeling stressed out, confused, depressed and generally bad about our lives.

That’s when we seem to only focus on the downside, turning away well-deserved praise and unable to handle criticism constructively. It’s hard to find a healthy perspective.

According to the Greek philosopher Epictetus, “People are not disturbed by events themselves, but rather by the views they take of them.” It’s up to us to identify the thought patterns that lower self-esteem and do what’s needed to develop a more balanced view of the world and our place in it.

Talking to a supportive listener –someone who will truly hear us without judgment or imposing his or her own views –can be an invaluable first step.

Some experts suggest writing down what upsets us — and chronicling our reactions will help identify underlying causes, but writing is just one approach: a solitary act.

Hearing ourselves talk about a situation in a safe, encouraging environment with someone who is completely focused on what we have to say adds a greater emotional depth to our words. And outcomes can be more tangible with someone to listen to our accomplishments on the journey into self-worth.

Give one of our trained listeners a call and see how good it feels to talk your way to your inner truth.