I want to be listened to and not just talked at…
In the face of modern communication brought to us at hyper speed, with all it’s condensed and fragmented thought, we now have quick bits of information coming at us on overdrive. There’s just too much content, driven by emotion, lost in translation, inferring the wrong tone (watch out you’ve just offended someone), fueled by countless ‘experts’, strong opinions, and all supported by an armchair activist crowd.
The result of this overload has led to a breakdown in communication. We have weakened our ability to have discussions in earnest – especially with anyone who doesn’t align with your views and feels threatened (or offended) by yours.
Meaningful, rational, ‘I hear you’ conversations further our enlightenment towards a greater good.
Unfortunately, hyper-speed social media frenzy communications, reduces us to shallow bits and pieces of information that are so hyper focused from particular viewpoints that the information coming at us is already acting as the judge and jury for how you should think too.
In part this happened because there’s just too much of it. Information is coming at us ALL THE TIME. It’s packaged as quick – quick – quick, because we’ve now entered what marketers and advertisers are calling an ‘Attention Economy’ – one that’s based on capturing your attention quickly for a sale. In fact too quick, because a recent study has indicated that since 2006 our attention spans have gone down from an average of 12 seconds of captivated time to a meager 7 seconds before we’re on to the next bite. That’s nearly cut in half within a span of only 10 years. Astonishingly a goldfish clocks in at 8 seconds – say what!? That’s right, we are on average, less attentive than a goldfish. Aughhh!!
Is it any wonder then why we don’t communicate as effectively as we once did? Who has the time?
Here’s the thing, haste makes waste, we all know this to be true and it’s most certainly true when it comes to being heard – really heard because it’s important for you (or the person trying to tell you something). Heard with a certain sense of clarity of the topic at hand. Heard with a sense of understanding of what’s being conveyed. Heard with an open-mind AND heart – knowing you’ve been heard because you were truly listened too.
It doesn’t take much, it’s really just three simple steps to bring conversation back to a meaningful place of connection when it’s needed – and believe me, there are times when it IS needed. I can think of many reasons in today’s world why it’s important to be able to have meaningful conversations. When those times are upon you think about the following:
- Be a respectful listener
- Acknowledge what you’ve heard
- Add to the narrative without hijacking it.
- The respectful listener. We all share stories and information. When it’s your turn to be the listener, just listen and be respectful. Engage in the listening process. Don’t tweet, email, text or whatever else you can do with your multi-tasking self, just listen (and try to keep your eyes from wandering if it’s a face to face). Remember, we evolved with face to face communication, so it’s in our nature to use that time to truly connect and communicate. But what’s also true, is that this form of communication (face to face) is not as easy to have if you’re not used to it. It can even bring up a level of discomfort. If that’s the case, this is one time when moving beyond your comfort level is a good thing. When you actively engage in the listening process you’re actually practicing a form of exercise for the brain. Focusing in on the conversation at hand, truly focusing, will not only open up many more thoughts and/or questions for you while you’re listening, it will also strengthen the skill for the next time.
- Acknowledge and process what you hear in order to deepen your understanding of the topic at hand. This requires your involvement and a mirroring back of what you heard. It’s the key operative motif in a meaningful conversation. Acknowledge what you’ve heard, because you want to build a consensus. That’s why we speak – to build a validity of thought in a true consensus. To see if we agree or disagree OR if it’s a truly divisive line of thought and we’re lost in a cyclical conundrum. Right or wrong – whatever it is – acknowledge you’ve heard it.
- Add to the narrative. Regardless of where you find yourself with the conversation, you need to be accepting of the thoughts at hand. Not always agreeing, but always willing to promote the art of meaningful conversation with meaningful input. Always adding to the building blocks of the narrative at hand. Don’t own the narrative, but keep it fluid. Talk about your understanding of the subject, but don’t own it. The light is not on you alone, it’s shared by all.
One of my favorite storybooks for read aloud with my kids is still “You Can’t Please Everyone”. In our version, it’s the story of a father and son trying to take their donkey to market for sale, but how they decide to get it there causes quite a controversy depending on who they pass along the way. So they keep changing their approach and eventually find themselves in a pickle. In order to get out of their mess and make it to market, they go back to their original plan. The moral of the story is to do what works for you and know that it’s a right plan for you. If you find yourself yielding to all, you will never find your way there. With that thought in mind, it’s still important to gracefully acknowledge the opinions of others too, because you never know what life is like walking in their shoes – for that understanding, we have the art of meaningful conversations.