We all want to be heard, this is for sure. However in the fast-paced world we live in today, this does not always happen.
Have you ever been talking with someone, telling them something important to you, and felt like they simply weren’t there? They’re there in the flesh, but not present in your conversation? Or perhaps they’re drifting in and out and you feel like they’re only getting half the picture? I think we’ve all been there, at various times in our lives, and it doesn’t feel very good.
Studies have shown that more often than not, the people who are meant to be listening are distracted. Of course, it happens at varying levels and whilst it is not a new thing, our portable devices certainly don’t help the situation.
How often do you experience or observe others, where one or all are on their devices? That’s not to suggest that this is always a bad or rude thing, however, it can be distracting individuals away from each other and therefore interrupting the opportunity for connection. Though, sometimes it might be contributing to connection. For example, they could be looking up fun holiday destinations, parks to play at, a beach to visit or a movie to watch together or they may be sharing photos of fun times. Therefore, it’s important not to judge, simply because you see others on their phones.
A little while ago, I read an article that stated that we are distracted, even when our phones are on silent. The vibration from a notification or a call coming through can be enough to distract our attention away from our conversation, even if we don’t answer or look at our phone. Mobile/cell phone etiquette certainly has some catching up to do.
We can’t blame it all on technology, though. One of the most common distractions is our own mind. Next time you are having a conversation with someone, notice what your mind is doing. There’s a good chance you’ll be thinking about the next thing you need to do, thinking about what you should’ve said in the last conversation, admiring the new haircut of the person you’re talking to, telling yourself a story about what they are saying, or simply planning your response.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Now think about when you are the person wanting to be heard. You can usually tell when that person isn’t really with you, can’t you? And then you’re distracted and telling yourself all the reasons why they’re not really listening.
Perhaps the story you’re telling yourself is that they don’t care, they’re not interested in what you’re saying, they think you’re ‘stupid’, what you’re saying is not important, they don’t believe you or they like the other person/people in the room more than you.
Result: you feel unimportant, not valued, supported or cared about. Just to name a few.
AND the more important the conversation is to you, the more hurt, frustrated or angry you’re going to feel.
So what can we do to make a difference in our own conversations? Well, of course, you can’t control what others do or don’t do, however, you can alter your own behaviour. You can begin to practice active listening strategies which will allow you to truly hear the other person, connect with them on a deeper level and learn and understand more about their experiences. You will also be role-modelling behaviours that are more conducive to connection, within your circle of people.
Active listening is a great way to prevent yourself from being distracted during a conversation. Next time you’re having a conversation with someone, give it a go. It is simply being ‘all in’.
- Stop talking…
- Avoid interruption
- Maintain appropriate eye contact
- Show interest and understanding
- Use engaging body language
- Ask questions, when appropriate, to clarify anything you don’t understand
- ‘Summarise’ what you heard to clarify you have understood correctly
- Do not look at your phone
- Avoid planning your response. You’ll be surprised, when you are actively listening, your response will come a lot easier and won’t need so much planning, because you have fully heard and understood the other person. If you do need to take a bit of time to consider your response, this is also ok and much more appreciated when you have been actively listening.
In addition, if you are sharing something with someone that is important to you and you feel like you are not being heard, you can gently address this. You can let them know that you feel like they are distracted and check-in if they are ok, if it is a good time to have the conversation, or if it will be better to continue the conversation at another time. Most of the time people don’t realise they are distracted, until after the fact and therefore a polite, gentle prompt can be helpful. Another strategy that can be helpful is before you start, you can let them know that what you’re about to talk about is quite important to you and it would be great if you can both put your phones away for a little while so that you can be present with each other.
There are many other ways of communicating your needs and I believe the key is to be open and clear, from the start, before you start feeling upset or frustrated by it. If you’re both on the same page and realise that it is an important conversation there is more chance of you both being able to hear each other and experience a beautiful connection.
This can be quite a different experience for each of you, therefore it might take time and practice. Be kind to yourself and understanding of others. Practice open, honest and curious communication…
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