Delivering Focused Listening Skills

We’ve all had to adjust how we work and live and communicate in our respective COVID19 worlds.  With the click of an online  button, we can order whatever we need to be fed or productive. The item is downloaded instantly or gets delivered to our front door.

Unfortunately, we can’t direct ship our focused listening skills. 

It’s a key  communication skill that we all need to develop if we are going to function effectively in our virtual environments.   Regrettably, even though it’s an essential workplace resource that is in high demand, the act of listening undergoes frequent delivery issues.  

What if we invested more time learning how to listen?

The ironic thing is if we invested more time developing our focused listening, we would  probably save time.  We may actually learn something and avoid incorrect assumptions. Yes, I know this is a stunningly obvious and simple observation, but how often have you created a communication challenge because you stopped listening? Or, are you prone to twitching in your seat or mumbling, or employing other behaviors that indicate that you’d like them to stop talking so you can hear the sound of your own voice again? Do you find prolonged silences challenging?

Can you even recollect the last time you had a conversation where no one interrupted?  

Given our fast-paced-digital communications and schedules, it’s easy to fall into poor communication habits. There also might be times when you  struggle to hear what the other party is saying because you already created an internal script about a person and a situation.  You decided that your script was valid, so you shut down your focused listening, thus limiting your ability to engage in a productive manner in the process.

I appreciate that it’s not always easy to remain silent when a conversation triggers an emotional reaction and you feel compelled to speak up right away.  However, if you commit to spending more time listening you will give yourself more control over the situation. You may find that the tension level will decrease and the other party may be more open to listening to your perspective, when they’ve completed their comments. Doing this takes discipline, patience, practice, and some tricks so you can “run interference” on yourself.  So, the next time you put yourself into  “listening only mode,” use this technique I developed for myself, and see if it helps you practice focused listening.

Tip #1 – Count on your fingers

You read this correctly.  Yes, after shelling out money for an expensive Ivy League graduate degree and decades of professional experience, this is what I am recommending will help you remember to listen.

Let me explain the process.  When you find yourself getting verbally fidgety and are getting ready to interrupt someone, take one of your hands and place it on your desk or table top.  Press your fingers lightly on the surface and press one finger then another as if you are playing the piano slowly. Doing this simple exercise will help ground you and remind you to pay attention. You’re probably wondering “How the heck did she come up with this?” Of course, I am going to share the backstory so you will trust my guidance.

Early on in my career, I worked for an executive search firm and conducted recruitment research. I had to place calls to individuals and companies in the Midwest and the South. As a born and raised, New Yorker, I have the tendency to talk very fast. When I heard silence on the other end of the phone, I presumed that the person on the other end of the phone had finished talking.  What I soon came to realize was they had merely paused to take a breath, and were preparing to share their next thought.  After a few calls, I realized that I needed to develop some patience and give the person on the other end of the phone a chance to share information in their customary style.  So, I started to use this technique, counting to five continuously and practicing listening!

Tip #2 – Practice Tip #1 Repeatedly

I am fully aware of the blogging guidance that recommends providing you with three to five distinct actionable tips per post.  Who came up with this rule? Why should I provide you with a long list of tips, when I know in my heart of hearts you need to practice the first one before you move on to something else? Just put your energies into practicing the first tip and pay attention to what triggers your need to talk. It’s not like any of us are getting this tip right all the time.

Tip #3 – Follow Communication Play #6

In my book, “The Learned It-In-Queens Communications Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction.” I talk about the “power of doing small things” to make a difference in our communications. Concentrate on building up your listening endurance like you’re an athlete–in-training. If you are a competitive person by nature and have a need to track metrics, keep score and time “the amount of time I managed to stay quiet and actually listen.”

Tip #4 – Acknowledge and Apologize For Your Listening Mishaps

I know, I know, it’s another brilliant suggestion, but doing this will actually make a difference in how the other party experiences you.  There’s been a few occasions, when I have been on a Zoom call, when a person was speaking and someone (who shall remain nameless h-e-r-e- ahem) started to speak before the other person finished what they wanted to say.  That individual tried to cover up their communication gaff by saying “ I’m sorry, my apologies. I thought you were finished speaking. You know how these audio transmissions are sometimes delayed!”

In closing, commit to being a Focused Listener every time you speak.  Remember it takes practice, but you’ll see a shift in your communication dynamics when you do. If you find yourself interrupting, stop and try again and do what we call in Queens a “do-over.*”

*Technically this could have been categorized as Tip #5, but let’s not split hairs.

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