I can safely say that my children would tell you I often talk about the importance of listening, of being interested in other people, of the power of asking questions.
Last week I had a reminder of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of being talked at, non-stop for a long time. Exhausting. I hadn’t met this person before, and circumstances meant we were in each other’s company for the entire afternoon. As the sun got lower into the sky, my capacity to stay present and engaged in the conversation waned and I was desperate to jump in my car and have some peace and quiet.
I say conversation, but it felt like a monologue. I had barely spoken. There wasn’t a thing I didn’t know about this person’s wider family, their home, their pets, their lockdown experience, where they do their shopping. They were the entertainer and I was the audience. I’m sure we could all think of similar situations we’ve been in.
As we started to part company and say our goodbyes, he said how much he enjoyed meeting new people, finding out about them and how good it was to ask questions – were we in the same conversation I wondered?
A few days have passed, and I’ve been thinking about that afternoon.
Having not met this person before and without knowing them personally, all I can reflect on are my own experiences of our time in dialogue together.
From my perspective, it heightened my senses around how much I appreciate and value someone genuinely being interested and curious in me, as well as me in them. In my views. In my thoughts. In my family, and so much more. And what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a one-sided interaction and talked at, rather than with.
It reinforced how much energy goes into truly listening to another person. Not just to the words but to the emotions and what I was sensing. After nearly six hours of, what felt like, deep listening, I was shattered. I also recognise that I hadn’t managed my own boundaries and given myself a short break just to re-energise and re-fresh.
Conversations are complex. In some of the best conversations I’ve had, there is a kind of give and take between talking and listening, a sharing of who is the speaker and who is the listener. Often we are so caught up that we do not notice where the balance is. We develop conversational habits. Sometimes they work for us and sometimes they work against us.
Whilst I appreciate it’s unlikely we’re going to be in six hour meetings at work, it’s probably very likely we know people who talk without listening, who seem to think that what they have to say is as fascinating to everyone else as it is to them, and who don’t seem to understand that listening is an important part of communicating and connecting to others.
But listening is no easy task and yet probably the more powerful position in communication. You learn when you listen. You build deeper relationships when you listen. And you strengthen human connection when you listen.
One of our recommended books on developing the skill of listening is “You’re Not Listening” by Kate Murphy. You can buy a copy here.
If you would like to have a chat about how to develop the Conversational Wisdom® of your leaders and managers, please get in touch.