I was having a discussion with my friend who was sharing his feedback on one of the articles I had written. I encouraged him to be blunt with his opinion so I could improve myself. A few minutes into the conversation and I was itching to respond. He was busy telling me what I could have done better and was offered a very useful criticism of my work. However, instead of following my own promise of listening to him, I was preoccupied with defending myself mentally.
His admonishment was forcing me to focus on my defense to his criticism instead of asking for more details. Improvement in any area is only possible if we get open-minded about what we need to change or work hard on, censuring feedback regarding this will only lead to stagnancy and lack of growth. I fell into that same trap when instead of focusing my attention on the rationality of thoughts; I lost control to my amygdala and allowed my emotions to take control of the conversation by focusing on the emotional value of words rather than their utility.
My friend felt betrayed as just a while ago, I was urging him to be open with his thoughts and right now was doing just the opposite of what I invited him to do. He went silent and the conversation confirmed his belief of never trusting a ‘writer’ (especially a new one) when asked for an honest feedback. ‘Frank’ here is just a euphemism for being eulogistic he thought.
This occurred many a times and that is when I decided to use this technique of observing myself. Observing one’s mental response, while receiving critical feedback can be an epiphany of sorts for many of us. This is when I realized what I was actually doing inside my head and decided to focus on the content instead of the emotional response my amygdala is forcing me to act on. It’s really difficult and I am still a work in progress, hoping to get better with each passing conversation.
Listening can be a tedious task and requires a lot of mental effort and concentration. According to various researches, not listening is the number one reason for marriage failures. And, although we spend 45% of our time listening, a majority of it is used to frame a response or even daydream. Also, while we speak 125-200 words per minute, our brain can process a much larger number of words, giving us a lot of extra time to wander off elsewhere.
Daydreaming is a very common response in such cases and is used to avoid boredom and people also resort to it when the speaker fails to stimulate their interest or when the content is either not relevant to them or presented in a dreary manner.
Another reason for poor listening is also the fact that very few people learn to be a better listener. Listening as a skill in itself is not part of any formal education structure especially in schools.
There are umpteen number of articles with tips on becoming a better listener; however, here I will only focus on some of the practical aspects, situations where we tend to wither away from listening and will emphasize on some questions to find out if we actually do those things, which deviate us from listening to someone.
9-Questions to ask yourself to find out if you actually listen
- Do you catch yourself getting stuck on some words the speaker uses.
When this happens, you suddenly forget to hold on to the rest of the speech, which then somehow has lost your interest.
- Do you catch yourself thinking about the evening plan or the meal you are going to have once the speaker is done or even during one on one conversations?
Wandering mind is a major stumbling block in listening well. One of the reasons for this wandering is because we speak far less words than what we can listen per minute.
- Can you keep your attention focused on the content, even if the speaker is propagating an idea you deeply abhor.
When this happens, your mind gets agitated and looks for evidence to support your point of view while conjuring up deprecating thoughts for the speaker.
- Do you observe yourself focused on the red tie or the blue handkerchief instead of the speech?
Visual learners have the tendency getting stuck things like these.
- Do you understand the underlying tone of the speech, the sarcasm or the pitch the speaker is trying to make?
If you can do that, you are a good listener, else, you need to focus a little more.
- Do you feel emotional after listening to someone even if the person was not using overtly emotional words or phrases?
If you do, you are an empathetic listener.
- Do you feel connected to the speaker and relate the speech with your own life.?
If yes, you were definitely an engaged listener.
- Do you feel constrained to have to listen to the conversation or to the speech?
If you do, then you are already a disengaged listener.
- Do you feel you have better ideas than the listener?
If yes, then even though your ideas are better, you were listening and feeling good about being better than the speaker is.
This is just an indicative list. There could be multiple other reasons, forcing you mentally out of a conversation, as you remain physically present.
The next article will focus on what we can do to get better at listening.
Your ‘frank’ feedback is welcome.