3 Ways to Stay Focused When Actively Listening

And Keep From Drifting

I’ve come to realize that one of the things about a conversation that energizes and refreshes me is when I know that the person I am talking to is really listening to me.

I’m also aware that nothing can be quite as deflating as thinking someone is listening to you and then realizing they’re not. Bummer. Enough has been written about listening to know that most people feel exactly the same way.  Unfortunately, it’s also pretty well known that most people don’t listen very well.

And while we don’t like others just passively hearing what we have to say (vs. actively listening), we do the same to others. More often than we think. I know I do. So why the disconnect?

As I started thinking about which of my own passive listening examples to share, I realized I can be at my worst when it comes to my 6yr old grandson and his young friends. In addition to the energy required, they seem to always want to have a conversation at the most inopportune times (like the one I just wrapped up with him while trying to write this post!). Then to top it off, they are often hyper-excited and talking really fast or are upset and talking between sobs and screams. Finally, most of what they have to say isn’t stuff I’m necessarily strongly interested in (like, say Steve of MindCraft fame or “who took what from whom”).

Isn’t that similar what most of us encounter all day long? Being 022 Settled 3 11396588_linterrupted at inconvenient times, having to refocus, and listen to emotionally charged folks talk about things they feel deeply about and in which you don’t have much personal interest.   That is especially the case if you’re in a leadership role.  Without a plan, it’s no wonder most of us start to drift…….

The good news is that you can maximize your ability to effectively listen by using these three active listening competencies:

  1. Listen for understanding- this means you listen in an attempt to not just understand, but with the intent of being able to recap and summarize what the person said as accurately as possible once they are done talking.
  2. Keep Perspective- Determine up front you are going to connect,tune-in with them as closely as possible, and see it from their view.
  3. Ask permission to see if you got it right- Commit to asking them if your understanding of what they said is correct.This does several things for you and the person to whom you are listening:
    • Bestows respect and dignity on them
    • Lets them know your not trying to be sarcastic. 
    • Let’s them know you intentionally paid attention to what they were saying.
    • Ensures they have control in getting their message across.
    • Allows an additional opportunity to clarify.
    • Provides an ability to focus the dialogue.

I could have also included not interrupting in the list above. But 99.9% of the time that means you aren’t listening in the first place and a list of three is easier to remember than a list of four. 🙂

Given the need to actively listen is great, the befits so many, and fact that its simple, then why do so few of us do it?  Because it’s hard. And remember, just because you know how to actively listen doesn’t mean you do it. You have to first get over yourself, make the others persons best interests priority for the moment, and then expend the energy.

Just like I did a few minutes ago with the 6 year-old who interrupted me. The same 6 year-old I’ve failed to actively listen to so many times before (and almost blew the chance to do so this time).

Which three active listening competencies, if you acted on it, would improve your ability to actively listen? Which do you succeed at and which do you struggle with the most?

Please leave a comment so we can listen in on what’s working, what’s not and how to get better.