Are you truly listening or are you rubbernecking, checking out who else is in the room or what other people are doing?
Are you focusing on the conversation at hand or listening with one ear, with the other on another conversation?
Are you actually there in body but thinking about other things — the to-do list you left at the office, that email you must send later, what you are going to have for dinner?
Or are you so in your own head that you are focused on thinking about what you are going to say next?
The art of connection lies in the ability to listen deeply – to listen with intent and a deep desire to understand. To be truly present in the moment, focusing on the person and the words they are sharing, curious about the real meaning behind them. And yet in today’s fast paced, uber connected world we seem to be losing the skill of listening.
Sean Kim, founder of the Growth List, says: ‘The truth is, most of us are hearing to respond, when we should be listening to understand.’
I’ve been facilitating a number of leadership strategy days over the last few weeks. As always, the active exchange of ideas and insight creates an infectious energy, a chatter of desire to get comments and thoughts out of heads and in to the ears of others. But the real gift is when the conversation and simple exchange of information become so much more. When the calmness of being truly present sets in, when a respect (and therefore time) for each other’s skill and value seems to somehow slow the conversation. The result? Deep listening. Real connection. An exchange of humanity in addition to the exchange of information.
When you really listen, people feel the connection; they sense the genuine interest you have in them and they often become more open and more honest, sharing more information. Genuine listening builds relationships and connections, solves problems and builds careers. This is when the magic happens.
Effective listening is a skill that underpins all positive human connections. I get it’s easy to get distracted when you are in a room with many others, but it’s important (and lets be honest, it’s respectful) to make a point of staying focused and present.
- It’s about listening and watching for all the verbal and non-verbal clues.
- Making eye contact, concentrating and making a conscious decision to remove all distractions.
- Showing a genuine interest. It does not have to be, and actually should not be, always about you. When someone else is talking, really listen to them and resist the temptation to butt in. Just stop and listen. When they have finished talking, then it’s your turn.
- Listen to what people are really saying. Ask questions. Be curious about those around you and explore what is really going on. Take a moment to be interested, to check in. Get to know people — to really know them.
Only then can we ensure the right exchange of information – information that is needed at that exact moment, information that is more than a surface level newsfeed or info blast. Only then can we provide connection and support and with it the true exchange of humanity.
That is connection. That is networking.