Active Listening and the Meandering Mind
The first step in receiving another’s message is your presence, both mentally and in your actions.
Presence influences as well as words. Intense relaxed attention focused on another literally pulls them to a higher level of participation. Practice clearing your mind to:
- Develop a single-minded awareness of what is actually occurring around you and within you.
- Attune yourself to your customers’ subtle communications and emotions.
Two Aspects of Presence
- Physical Presence
Using your body to demonstrate intense, relaxed focus.
- Mental Presence
Getting yourself fully present and focused on what others are saying.
No doubt you will find these skills valuable in your face-to-face interactions.
- Squaring: Sit or stand with your shoulders squared to the customer or speaker. If someone is saying something important, we face them squarely. If you “turn away” from someone who is speaking, they feel less heard.
- Eye Contact: Hold steady, consistent eye contact with the speaker. Focus on one eye to give more intense eye contact.
- Leaning: Lean in toward the speaker about 10 degrees to project the intensity of your interest.
- Facial Gestures: Send the speaker visual cues that you are tracking with them. Head nods, smiles, a furrowed brow, raised eyebrows, dropping your jaw are signs that you are listening and understanding.
- Vocal Inflection: Give vocal cues as well as visual cues. This is especially important on the phone. "Hmm", "yes", "ahhh", "right", "I see", "gotcha", "um hmm" are vocalizations or expressions that let a speaker know you are listening.
To be mentally present requires more than just silence when another speaks. You must clear your mind of extraneous “chatter” and focus intensely on what the speaker is saying.
Monitor the Meandering Mind
When your mind wanders, and you cannot accurately paraphrase, don't go into self criticism. Instead, increase your awareness by identifying where your mind wandered.
If you weren’t listening, see if you can remember what you were thinking about. Participants in this workshop commonly identify four reasons for not listening carefully enough to paraphrase completely:
- You were listening...but only to prepare what you would say when it was your turn.
- The pressure of business deadlines or personal demands caused you to stray from what the speaker was saying.
- Your mind simply drifted into a daydream about something entirely unrelated.
- You have no idea where you “went.” (You draw a complete blank and are unconscious of any of your thought process).
How do you gain control of your meandering mind?
Our ability to monitor our own thought process -- our awareness of our own thinking. When we are able to reflect on our own reasoning process, we can consciously intervene and change our own thinking.
Splitting the Mind...Creating an Inner Observer:
The mind is split into two functions: one continues the normal mental processes, the other monitors thinking at a "meta" level. The process helps deepen our understanding of the sources of our behavior.
Awareness of our own defensive behavior often occurs before we are able to curb the behavior. Before a change in behavior, the inner-observer can observe, "Wow, am I ever defensive here today!" Gradually, the level of awareness evolves to initiate new behavior and urges the defensive self to 'ask a question'. Since defensiveness commonly exhibits itself through explanatory statements, a good first step is to ask the other person a question and then paraphrase the answer. Simply asking questions dramatically eases the exchange.
Our natural discomfort with silence sometimes causes us to interrupt a silence in the conversation too soon. Frequently, before someone embraces a new perspective we are urging, they will go silent. They are doing the deep thinking required before they open to new perspectives. To interrupt this important exploration undercuts our ability to influence.
- Practice holding silence longer. Allow your “inner-observer” to monitor your nervousness, “Shouldn’t I be saying something?”
- Develop deeper silences within yourself so that you can hear through the noise to find the signal of what others really mean.
- See the silence of your conversation not as dead silence, not as paralyzed silence, but as silence teeming with possibility.
One of our strongest allies in being mentally present is to hold our silence longer than is comfortable.
Most of us tend to want to talk more than we listen. This tendency is counterproductive to building relationships, gathering information and learning.
When someone listens to us intently and accurately, we experience deep satisfaction. Simply listening to someone creates influence. They come away feeling heard and thinking of us as someone who can really listen to them.