One of the challenges of listening well is that we tend to listen to respond instead of listening to understand.
This comes in several flavors. You might listen to the first few sentences, and then start constructing your answer in your mind … which means you tune out the rest of what’s being said.
Or you might have something you really-really want to say, but out of “politeness” you wait for the other person to finish speaking.
I put “politeness” in quotes because what’s really going on in your head is anything but polite. Instead, it’s more along the lines of “I’ve never heard anyone speak so slowly … does she really know what she’s talking about? … no, I’ve thought this through much more clearly … she needs to hear what I have to say on the subject…” and so on.
Neither of these, nor any of the other variations on listening-not-listening, is very polite.
And it comes across to the other person.
If you tune out half or three-quarters of what’s being said, you miss important information that might very well cause you to choose a different response. And if you’re just waiting for the other person to shut up, already, so you can speak, your body language will be impatient and your tone will be abrupt and potentially authoritarian.
True listening starts with your willingness to be self-aware and notice when your attention is straying, notice that you’re self-absorbed and focused on what you want to say, paying only minimal consideration to the other person’s words.
One of the most beautiful, precious gifts we can give to anyone is our attention. And if we want to create real connection with someone, whether it’s your boss, your colleague, your partner, or your kid, giving someone the gift of your full attention is a great way to start.
It’s a simple thing, but not necessarily easy.