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Sometimes I don’t listen. I mean, I hear things that are happening around me, but I’m not really listening. I’m only half-listening. (Okay, maybe one-third listening.)
Part of the reason is, like so many of us, I’m doing other things when I should be listening: checking email, reading the news or thinking about what I need to get done over the course of the day. I convince myself that I’ll listen as soon as I get that last “important” email sent or when I get just one more item checked off my to-do list.
Multi-tasking sounds great in theory, but the truth is that we don’t have the bandwidth to give our attention to more than one thing at a time. Texting and driving is a good example. We simply aren’t good at dividing our attention.
When we aren’t fully engaged in actively listening to others, it sends a message that we don’t value them or what they are saying. My husband will be talking away and I’ll realize at some point that I didn’t catch a single word he said. I imagine it’s pretty frustrating for him because I don’t particularly enjoy it when he does it to me either.
As a self-care exercise, I spent the day focusing intently on listening. And it was difficult. Really difficult.
Over the course of the day, I interacted with several people by phone and face-to-face, and it’s probably not surprising to learn that listening was a bit easier in face-to-face settings. When you’re staring at someone eyeball to eyeball, checking email just seems ridiculous. But even with face-to-face conversations, there can be distractions. In public places, we’re surrounded by other people, conversations and noises that steal our attention.
Talking on the phone presents its own unique challenges. It’s much easier to drift into multi-tasking mode when you’re staring at a pile of projects rather than a set of eyeballs. You think to yourself that no one will notice if you finish up a quick email, jot down a few items on your grocery list or pay a couple of bills.
Knowing this, I’ve discovered that I need to be very careful about what’s in front of me when I’m talking on the phone. If I clear my work space, thereby eliminating distractions, I can focus my attention on the person I’m talking with. Not only am I able to capture more of details about what’s being said, I’m also able to participate in the conversation more. The exchange becomes more balanced and meaningful.
How do you stay focused when you’re listening?