How Do You Focus To Listen?

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There is a budding resurgence taking place concerning the importance of Conversation in life and business. Not that a lot of the words aren’t just hanging out there, dissipating in the wind. A lot of businesses grab the “shiny thing” when it comes to the latest discussions and thinking around whatever can keep us growing, or at least “safe.” I still experience an enormous amount of Telling and Broadcasting instead of Conversation and Engagement, both online and off-line. Even conversation has numerous forks in the concept, the largest two seem to be “listening-to-reply” and “listening-to-understand.”
A few years ago I wrote an article about the abundance of LIKING-type behavior online in comparison to the actual conversation taking place. Businesses were still trying to figure out this new paradigm where the customers actually controlled the brand perceptions, and NOT the BRAND controlling them. Along with the immature capabilities for measuring real engagement and the misunderstanding surrounding the actual meaning and value of a LIKE or a FOLLOW or a “+1” meant that the definitions of success were too fuzzy, and likely incorrect.
Things are different now.

The companies that get it realize that it takes a LOT MORE WORK (and different skills…) to build trusting relationships online. They get the value of doing the work. Most every organization knows that it costs less to maintain a loyal customer that it costs to create a new, loyal customer. Doing that in a marketplace that is increasingly digital is the bit they have a tough time with. The trusting relationship is still the same. What a business must do to build and maintain it involves a deeper understanding both of the constantly morphing capabilities of the Internet and a better understanding of the social and psychological underpinnings of how people interact and “are” online.
This fork in the conversation concept speaks to the “voices in my head” aspect of being a thinking person, but also to a number of unfortunate societal pressures. Most of us have an inner conversation and commentary that we may or may not be aware of on a steady basis. That in and of itself is not bad. However, when engaged in a conversation, it creates problems. Listening closely to another voice takes concentration and focus (and our society seems to value instant, seemingly authoritative answers, whether they’re right or wrong…makes us look smart!). Trying to do that with two voices in quality and meaningful ways is remarkably difficult, and our brains are, frankly, lazy. Despite taking a small percentage of our overall mass, our brains utilize roughly 20% of our body’s energy, and energy conservation is the name of the game. Our brains prefer to take the easy way all the time. If you are busy formulating some kind of reply to the person who is currently saying something, you are not paying close enough attention. In any situation, if you’re busy formulating a reply, you’re missing some part of the meaning in what this person is trying to convey to you. The result is a much lower likelihood of effective communication and a decreased likelihood of walking away with an understanding of what what actual communicated.
This fork in the conversation concept is more difficult to manage, for sure. First you must MANAGE the ongoing conversation in your head into something closer to silence. Focusing upon not only what the other person is saying, but taking in the facial and bodily cues that can enhance communication is important. Even if you aren’t a student of these cues, you are a human being and we do indeed get a more complete message by paying attention to the entire person. Listen to the tone of their voice, the words they use, the arc of the story they are telling….and all else. Then, in a Herculean effort of self-control, DO NOT REPLY INSTANTLY. You’ve just taken in an enormous amount of information that was not yours to begin with. Take the time to process it, then thoughtfully consider what, if any, reply you may have…to include a couple of replies that may not occur to you immediately: (1) “Tell me more.”, and (2) “I don’t know.” Either of those may move the conversation to another level and deepen understanding and trust.
While exercising your listening abilities, reading about conversation and communication (and practicing, of course!) will help you gain a deeper understanding of the wonderful skill you can deploy throughout your life.
I highly recommend Valeria Maltoni‘s site Conversation Agent and her last post of 21 Books Worth Reading.
I also recommend A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, Smart Change by Art Markmann and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
Start today by quieting your inner voices and really listening. You will be astounded.


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