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Are You Winning the Active Listening Game? Part II

Effective listening

Are You Winning the Active Listening Game? Part II

You could win $20,000 and a chance to come back next week if you win the Active Listening Game!

Last week, I admitted to all the world that I used to be a bad listener. That’s not an easy admission to make – but here’s where things get interesting. I believe I’m still a bad listener. After all, I didn’t buy a new brain, and I’m still the same person I was back then. The difference is that I now employ a handful of brain hacks that bridge right over my active listening shortcomings.  

First, let’s set the physical stage. Active listening requires an environment that is conducive to focused attention. Plenty of external aspects are simply beyond our control, but there are plenty that we can address before the first word is spoken.

Hide your device

You believe your phone is designed to inform you, but app makers think it’s designed to distract you. And they’re winning the battle, because after picking up our phones an average of 80 times a day, we start looking at it without any prompts whatsoever. We can start to take the reins back by hiding our devices. Your phone is a visual trigger: if you see your smartphone during the conversation, you’re far more likely to pick it up (even if it doesn’t make a sound), and then guess what? You’re officially not listening.

Make time

The scientific pros and cons of being perpetually late is a conversation du jour. But one thing we know is that active listening takes time, and that to be “in a hurry” means that mentally, you’ve already left. Schedule meetings like a kitchen renovation: simply assume every meeting is going to take 30% longer. Just try it for a day or two and see how it affects the quality of your meetings.

Now that we have a supportive environment in time and space, it’s time to explore whether your own passive behavior is conducive to good listening. When we have a suspicion that someone isn’t listening to us, we generally want that conversation to end as soon as possible. The opposite is also true, and the following behaviors help message to my conservation partner that I’m very serious about hearing what they have to say.

No, seriously: Hide your device.

Having your smartphone on the table during a meeting or over lunch is a flashing neon sign that sends a clear message to your conversation partner: “IM NOT LISTENING”. It’s subtle and pervasive and can be nearly impossible to do at work. And – if your conversation is light and familiar, it might be no big deal… but good listening and digital devices do not play well together.

Make a game of active listening

I learned long ago that I’m a problem solver. I like games, challenges, brain teasers, literally anything that gets the gray matter fired up. And for better or worse (actually, for much worse), my brain doesn’t consider listening to a problem-solving activity – the very root of my poor listening skills. So I started consciously making a game out of listening by making every conversation similar to the greatest game show on Earth: $20,000 Pyramid. After being given a topic, Player A has to describe the topic until Player B can identify it. As Player B, I focus my attention on seeking out key pieces of information to make sure that I completely understand what my partner has said. If it’s a complex idea, I’ll describe it back to my partner to make sure I’ve nailed it.

These ideas aren’t rocket science, but somehow we as a species tend to trip over The Obvious. Effective listening has numerous complex and far-reaching components, some of which we’ll explore next week. In the meantime, try to benchmark your own listening skills by asking your colleagues if they think you’re dialed in during a conversation, or if you’re working crossword puzzles on some distant planet. Mentors are an excellent place to start the conversation, and your company might even offer training on ‘active listening’. And then – try your luck at winning $20,000 with every conversation!

Mark Brodbeck, MSW

Director of Marketing at eMentorConnect. Passionate about people intent on elevating others, and other examples of enlightened self-interest. Frank Sinatra said it best: 'It's one world, pal. We're all neighbors.'