For the last two weeks I have been listening to customers talk about Holiday plans. While many are excited to see friends and relatives, most are expressing significant dread over interactions they will have with their guests and relatives. One couple was actually making a list of things not to talk about at holiday gatherings and parties. You laugh, but they were dead serious.
As I listened I wondered how many moments, how many interactions would be made better if we really took the time to listen this week. I don’t mean just hear what someone is saying, I mean really listen.
As entrepreneurs, I think we have strong ideas and are in forward motion twenty three and a half hours each day. This is the very thing that allows us to get things done but it’s also the very thing that makes us hear only selective words in conversations. We filter and hear everything through our own grid. The result may be that we are not really “listening” even though we are hearing what is being said.
Two weeks ago I was talking with a colleague after a meeting and he asked me a question about an idea I had presented. When I answered the question he asked it again. So I answered again with the same answer. Then he asked the question again which I answered the same way I had the other two times. By this point I was thinking, “what is this guy’s problem? I am speaking perfectly good English and my explanation was crystal clear. What is it that he’s not getting?”
Finally he stopped and looked at me and said, “You are not hearing what I am saying. My question is……” As I processed I realized that he was right. I wasn’t answering his question, I was answering the question I thought he should ask me and predicating my answer on what I thought he may have missed and what I thought should be important to him. I was pretty caught up in my brilliant idea. I suddenly realized I was so caught up that even though I was hearing him I wasn’t really listening to him.
As we parted I felt pretty stupid. I began to ponder how many times I converse with people, or they converse with me, and one or both of us isn’t really listening to the conversation. We are hearing, but we are not listening! The current buzz word is being “present.” But in all honesty there’s nothing new or trendy about this problem. It’s not the result of increased screen time or the advent of new technology. It’s the same issue that we have had for generations. Often we are too preoccupied with our own ideas to really focus on what someone else is saying.
As I thought more about it, I was reminded of an encounter I witnessed over 20 years ago at an event in Dallas, Texas. I was behind stage at a large conference with my wife. The founder of her company, Mary Kay Ash, was walking down the hall and had stopped to talk with someone in a crowded hallway. Even though the hallway was packed with people wanting her attention, her focus was on the one individual she was talking to. She was intense and focused. I remember watching as staff were trying to get her attention and move her along. But her focus never wavered. She was really listening to what was being said! I remember seeing someone tug at her shoulder to try and get her attention. She never flinched or reacted. Finally everyone around got the message – “I am listening and when I am listening I don’t want to be distracted.” I later read that when Mary Kay talked with someone she always placed the thought in her mind that the person was wearing a sign around their neck that said, “Make me feel important.” She disciplined herself to not be distracted. She listened with a singular focus. I could see it right there with my own eyes. I believe she really heard what was being said to her even though there was activity and chaos all around her. Don’t I wish that people listened to me that way? Better yet, don’t I wish I listened to others that way?
As for me, I can be in a conversation with one person and be hearing the words in six other conversations around me. I am not sure whether I am a little ADD or I just don’t want to miss anything. Or, maybe I am just looking for a better conversation to join. Be honest – have you ever done the same thing?
As an entrepreneur, I often find that I am intent, but often it’s on my own ideas. I am in forward motion and if someone is not running with me I can run over or right past them.
The problem with all of this is that when we do that, we miss so much. We miss:
…the wisdom someone may be sharing.
…the real point of a conversation.
…the power of another point of view.
…the connection that we might share with someone else.
…the opportunity to be a listening ear for someone else.
…the opportunity to AVOID CONFLICT and come to mutual understanding.
…the collaboration and great ideas that can come as a result of someone else’s input.
…something significant that someone may contribute to your life.
So here’s a a couple of things I am going to try to do – not just this Holiday Season but routinely as I enter into the new year:
*Ask lots of questions
*Be less intent on saying “what I think.”
*Listen to the conversation from someone else’s vantage point.
*Stop patiently waiting for someone else to quit talking so I can share my thoughts.
*Refuse to be distracted or interrupted by the something urgent outside of my conversation.
Communication is an art these days. Let’s face it, it’s really a LOST art! There are hundreds of books and experts to help us out with communication, conflict resolution, and complicated relationships. But maybe if we just stop and listen, take time to really enter into a conversation, we will not only listen, we will hear what someone is saying.