April 9, 2020

How I learned to listen better or what I learned from You’re not listening by Kate Murphy

You’re not listening was recommended by many people that I follow as one of the books that I should read for 2020. I was glad that I picked up this book, because I had always thought that I was a good listener, but then I realized after reading this book that I could be doing a lot more to be a better listener. Here is what I learned:

Deep listening is different than how we typically listen

A lot of the times when we are listening to someone (either a friend in conversation, a coworker, etc.), our attention is divided. We are sitting in front of our computer or we have our smartphones in front of us. Full attention is not provided to the other person. Why is this important? There is a lot of listening that happens not just with your ears, but also with your eyes and deep listening is a combination of hearing what the person is saying (content, tone and pitch), seeing their body language, facial expressions and hand gestures, and then figuring out how this adds up the overall message the person is providing. For example, you may be talking to a friend who just received a promotion at work, except that they don’t sound as excited as they should be and they may tell you and then have a delayed smile. All of these things would be missed if you weren’t really paying attention and you would not be able to get the full story without understanding all of these elements.

Listening is a skill that you can build

Many times, we listen not to understand the other person, but to think about what to say or ask next. Again, this means that your attention is not fully on the other person. What does that mean? It means that sometimes we have to listen without knowing what to say next. It’s uncomfortable, but then your attention is fully on the conversation and the other person. Many of these things are better used in face-to-face conversation, but that does not mean that your attention is not needed on phone calls or virtual meetings. And it also means that sometimes we may need to ask for a minute or two to collect our thoughts before we continue the conversation.

Asking the right questions is key

In improv, asking questions is taboo. In the one improv class that I took, I learned that rather than asking questions, making a statement is much more effective in moving the scene. Improv is an exercise in giving and taking. Even when you do not want to take a scene one way, you go along with it. We had one activity where the only thing we could do is ask questions and it was super difficult in telling a story and ‘moving’ the scene along. When you are listening though, it is important to ask the right questions and really get at the heart of the matter. If your friend tells you about a promotion but is not entirely enthused about it, a good question might be “hey, you don’t seem super excited about your promotion?”, but a better question might be, knowing your friend and their background “oh this new promotion means you’ll have to manage people and since you have had the worst managers, you probably have no idea how to manage people effectively. Does that scare you about this new promotion?”

You can listen better by adjusting which side you listen with

Interestingly, which side you listen with can influence your understanding. Your right ear (connected to your left brain), is a better side to listen to logical, rational arguments (or to generalize further, men). Your left ear (connected to your right brain), is a better side to listen to emotions and feelings (or to generalize again, women). The author cites anecdotes of women listening to male coworkers using her right ear instead of her typical left ear and found that these women were better able to understand what the men were saying and why they were saying it.

How will you change the way you listen to others? Will you put down your smartphone? Not think about what to say the next time there is a pause or uncomfortable silence?

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