Are We Listening?
The Uh-huh’s, OK’s, and I agree’s were all being said at the appropriate times, but it had been a full five minutes since my friend had looked at me instead of his cell phone. The issue I had come to discuss was important—at least to me—but as the “conversation” progressed and all I was seeing was the top of his head and his thumbs whizzing out text messages, I questioned whether it held any significance to him. I also felt somewhat slighted. Finally I said, “I’ll come back when you’re less busy,” and left.
Was my friend truly snubbing me? Perhaps not, according to the New York Times. Journalist David Carr writes that if someone you’re talking to is looking “into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person.” He adds that the digital revolution “has made it fashionable to be rude.”1 Carr does go on to dispel the notion that such behavior doesn’t reflect discourtesy, but the newly established “norm” he cites is worrisome. Does a lack of engagement, eye contact, and positive body language—basically, good listening skills—no longer matter? I was heartened to learn that to many people, yes, they still do.
“Sending one little text message as your coworker is talking sends an enormous message to her: You’re not listening. And that hurts,” says Laura McMullen, U.S. News. Even though you’re good at multitasking and might be hearing the other person, if your focus is elsewhere, McMullen says, you’re telling the speaker that what they’re saying isn’t important to you.2 The speaker may also interpret it to mean that they themselves aren’t important to you either.
Of course, it’s not just texting that’s the problem. Talking on your cell phone while a cashier is checking you out at a grocery store, nudging and laughing with others during a person’s presentation, needlessly interrupting someone or pointlessly changing the subject, frequently looking at your watch during a conversation—all these behaviors and others signal a lack of interest and even of respect.
But don’t we sometimes have to excuse ourselves from a discussion or veer a conversation in a different direction? Certainly. But in most situations, if we want to project genuine interest and concern, good listening skills are a must.
So if you’re in need of a refresher, here are a few tips on toning up those skills:3
Make eye contact and give the speaker your full attention. Looking at the speaker and not constantly over their shoulder or at things going on around you indicates that you’re focused on them and what they’re saying.
Be silent at first. Don’t quickly interject with comparisons of your experiences with theirs or try to “top” the other person’s story.
Sympathize when appropriate.
Assure the person of your confidentiality, if needed.
Ask meaningful questions.
Paraphrase and summarize. Recapping and restating what the person is telling you assures them that you’re listening and provides an opportunity for them to correct wrong assumptions.
Be encouraging whenever possible.
Don’t always offer solutions. Often the person just wants to talk about a situation and doesn’t necessarily want advice.
And a little off-topic but still appropriate: if a person is discussing a problem, end the conversation with prayer.
Reuters product manager Anthony De Rosa sums it up well: “When people are out and they’re among other people, they need to just put everything down,” he says. “We need to give that respect to each other back.”4
Good counsel! But are we listening?
- Some of these tips are based on an online article found at www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Listener.
- In www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/fashion/17TEXT.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.