“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway
Do most people listen with intention and attention? Based on personal and professional experiences, I would venture to say no. In fact, I suggest you think about it. As you do, I am sure you can reflect on many situations where people do not actively listen. Here are a few examples which should resonate with you:
A few days before the new year, I was invited to a dinner party with a very small gathering. An acquaintance, whom I had not seen for quite some time, arrived a few minutes later with her brother. Both had moved out to the west coast and were home for the holidays visiting family and friends. This acquaintance whom I will refer to as Cathy was always the friendly type so with much enthusiasm I voiced the usual niceties, “How are you? How do you like living in California? I heard you love your new job. Tell me about it.” When she completed her update, I proceeded to ask if she knew about mine. Cathy responded with “yes” indicating she saw it on social media. As I began explaining my reasons for the new venture, Cathy listened for a moment, and while I was in mid sentence, she turned her head and initiated a discussion with her brother whom she sees on a regular basis. This mild transgression was somewhat startling, and my voice basically drifted into silence. Now allow me to be clear, anyone who knows me is aware I do not talk at length about myself nor am I boring. Later when there was a lull in conversation, I asked if anyone read any good books or saw any interesting movies. No one volunteered so I shared my confusion and ambivalence about a movie I had seen recently. After I revealed an outline of this flawed film, Cathy made some comment, and then shifted her attention again. Ignoring this impropriety, I continued my conversation with the host who listened intently. Later, I found out from the hostess, my very good friend, that Cathy was also distant with her. This behavior does not usually occur for my friend or I. We have been in the people business for over 35 years and tend to listen far more than self disclose. As rude and startling as Cathy’s behavior was, it is more common than people realize. In fact, the lack of attention, interest in another and ability to actively engage is a problem and a major deficit in communication skills. Although the rise of the internet has contributed to greater attention deficits, this behavior is not new.
In the late eighties long before smart phones, friends and I were members of a winter club. There were many well-educated people in attendance. All of us were friendly with each other and frequently got immersed in light banter. One day, however, after participating in club activities for a few years, one of my very perceptive friends asked if I noticed other members’ lack of interest in engaging beyond teasing and joking. Being in the company of close, long-term friends, I had enough conviviality within my immediate circle to regard this behavior. After she brought it to my awareness, however, I began to consider my friend’s acumen, and in no time concurred with her observations. All of these affable regulars remained strangers to one another. If we did not attempt to inquire more about their lives, talking would eventually cease, and even if we did, my friend was correct about mutuality. There was none.
A new year is here again and so aren’t the resolutions. They usually revolve around losing weight, exercising more, imbibing less, and abstaining from something currently deemed unhealthy for us. January 1st marks a time of new beginnings even though every day can be a fresh start. Research has shown this pivotal date brings on a vast increase in gym memberships, and for the first few months, committed individuals attend with vigor and conviction to alter their unhealthy habits. What is often not voiced or suggested is a resolution to be more actively attuned while in conversation with others. Most people truly do not attend to the one or many whom they are with and are usually unaware of their limited communication skills. Everyone has mishaps around this behavior, but for those of us who try to be mindful and more focused, reciprocity is not always a given. With the new year now in full movement, I suggest all of us take inventory and evaluate our listening skills. Are we striving to be the best with the often understated sibling in the communication family? Are those to whom we are close doing the same? If we say no to the former, be determined to make a concerted effort and put it into action. For the latter, gently encourage them to exercise this skill. Practice may not make perfect, but continuous repetition can aid someone towards getting “unstuck.” By increasing the important skill of active focus and listening, a rare and fleeting opportunity may avail itself.
Darlene Corbett is a Keynote Speaker and Success Coach. She speaks with passion and verve on getting “Unstuck.” When coaching clients, Ms. Corbett uses a vast array of visualization skills to help foment ideas into realities. With several years of people experience, Ms. Corbett does not just provide tools to create the house but to construct the powerful foundation. To learn more about Ms. Corbett, please visit darlenecorbett.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and on Twitter @Unstuck Speaker.