Want to Be A Better Listener? (Part 3) Pay Attention

Have you ever been in the middle of pouring your heart out on the phone and then you hear the clicking of a keyboard and realize the other person has been on the computer the whole time? Have you ever been trying to speak with someone face-to-face and they start glancing at their phone? How did it make you feel?

To be a better listener we have to be able to give others our undivided attention. This might seem simple, but is your attention truly undivided? What else are you doing while you’re on the phone? What distracts you during a conversation?

Here are some ways you can clear away distractions so that you can give someone your full attention:

  • Don’t try to multitask. As discussed in Part 1, our brains actually can’t do more than one thing at once with any accuracy. So, you can’t check your email or send a text message while you’re also on the phone with someone. When you’re having important conversations discipline yourself to physically put away distractions like computers and phones for the duration of your talk. When I have to pay attention on a call I actually swivel my office chair to face the wall so that I won’t be distracted by my computer.
  • Consider using Face-time rather than a phone call. It does make a huge difference to be able to look at someone when you’re speaking with them. When actual face-to-face time isn’t possible then I always prefer to use a video call for important talks. You can connect with the person much more when you can see them. A video call also forces you to put away distractions because you can’t be watching TV or reading emails when someone can see you.
  • Maintain eye contact. Improving eye contact is a great way to show people that you’re focused on them. Start to be aware of how much you may be looking around, fiddling with the napkin, or glancing at your phone rather than looking directly at the person you’re speaking with. This takes some vulnerability and can harder than it sounds.
  • Choose your venue wisely for an important face-to-face talk. I once made the mistake of scheduling an important chat in a busy restaurant. If the close tables and loud music wasn’t enough, as the evening went on a live band joined the scene. We ended up standing outside in freezing weather just to finish our conversation. It was really frustrating and ruined the night. If you have some important things to talk about think about choosing a space that will make both of you comfortable, offer some privacy, and have a quiet atmosphere.
  • Discuss how much time is needed and schedule for it. I’ve been in many situations where I was anticipating the chance to really talk things out and the other person began by saying that they only had a fraction of the time that I was expecting. I didn’t really see the point of getting into things when I knew there wasn’t ample time to discuss them in a fulsome way. If you have an important conversation looming it’s a good idea to ask the person how long they think it might take, and then honour that time in your schedule. If they’re expecting an hour long conversation and you breeze in expecting a quick 20 minute coffee they’re probably going to feel hurt and unimportant.

If you want to be a better listener you have to be able to actually hear people by giving them your undivided attention. It can take some discipline to clear away distractions, slow down, and focus only on what another person is saying. Try it out next time and see how it changes your conversations.


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