By Rob Furlong
A favourite meme of mine is one where Robert Downey Jr. (who plays Tony Stark/Iron Man) has his arms crossed, eyes rolling backwards and the caption stating, “The face you make when the person you can’t stand is talking!”
For some strange reason, my eldest daughter sent this to me with the not- so -subtle suggestion that this is how I can be at times!
Yes – I confess – I have trouble being present with people in conversation occasionally, and I suspect I am not alone!
How can I (we) be more present with people?
Author of Emotionally Healthy Relationships, Peter Scazzero has suggested some statements designed to help us discover what kind of listeners we are. How many of the following can you truthfully say “yes” to? (The statements have been adapted from Scazzero’s EHR Course)
Close friends would describe me as a responsive listener.
When people are upset with me, I can listen to them without being defensive.
I listen to people’s words as well as their body language and feelings behind their words.
I am not primarily interested in judging others or quickly giving them my opinion.
I can empathize with people’s feelings.
I am aware when I am appeasing, ignoring, blaming, or distracting others in my conversations.
I am conscious of the impact my family of origin has had upon the way I listen to people.
I ask the person to clarify what they mean as I listen, rather than “filling in the blanks” or making assumptions about them.
I do not interrupt when the other person is speaking.
I give people my undivided attention when they are talking to me.
Scazzero goes on to explain:
If you said yes to 8-10, you are an outstanding listener; if you said yes to 6-7, you are very good; 4-5, good; 3 or fewer, poor – you are in trouble.
It is not a bad idea either, to have someone close to you rate your listening skills as well – it may provide you with a more accurate picture!
There are a couple of helpful insights that arise from completing a simple exercise like this.
In the first instance, the statements themselves give us valuable clues as to what “being present” looks like.
If you are listening well then you will respond effectively to the other person. You pick up on the emotional cues they are sending, you can affirm their feelings, you are more focused on helping them to process their emotions as opposed to trying to “fix” them.
Instead of trying to defend yourself or deflect the conflict away, you listen and answer the person with grace and without judgement.
The second thing this exercise does is it allows us to see where we need to develop in our listening skills and to ask ourselves questions as to why we struggle being present with people.
“I know I become very defensive with people at times. What is this saying about how conflict was managed in my family of origin?”
“I find it difficult when people become emotional in a conversation with me. How do I process my own feelings and how can I learn to do this better?”
“More often than not, I am more interested in telling the person my opinion or giving them the solution to their problem. Am I more interested in impressing them with my ‘wisdom’ or in really listening to them? How do I grow beyond this?”
If doing this little exercise has prompted these, or similar questions, in you, then you are on your way to becoming a better listener!
Of course, you are not going to change overnight, but if you commit to learning and practicing better listening skills, over time you will experience real change.
Next month we will take a closer look at what some of those practical skills are.
By Rob Furlong