Have you ever found yourself doing a routine task and your brain is firing off all sorts of random, disconnected thoughts?

“I need to confirm my checking account balance.”
“I need to check what is considered the ideal weight for me.”
“Maybe I should cook that new brussels sprouts recipe tonight.”
“I need to send out that email to John.”

And the thoughts go on and on. Think of it as white noise in your head.

Now imagine that you are having a conversation with someone. Unfortunately, that white noise doesn’t go away for many of us. It plays softly and sometimes loudly in the background as we TRY to focus on the conversation we are having. Even the conversation triggers random thoughts like “I wonder where I put that book” or I wonder where she got those shoes.”

It is really hard to listen to what someone else has to say.

According to Judith Glaser, founder of Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ), one of the conversational blind spots many of us are prone to is “We believe we remember what others say when we actually remember what we think about what others say.” 

For example, I tell you about a movie I saw and what you remember is that you heard the movie was terrible. You may not even remember that I said I liked the movie. This is because we are wired to remember what we are thinking over what someone else is saying to us.

We also get distracted when listening.

Researchers have found that we drop out of conversations every 12 to 18 seconds to process what people are saying. This is why many speakers employ repetition and recapping what they’ve said so that you can hear a message several times.

How many times have you half-listened to your child because you were distracted by other thoughts? You might say, “I don’t have time to listen to everything.”

And yet, I would suggest that you can’t afford to not listen. Truly engaging conversation happens when we are present, listening and finding ways to connect with the speaker.

What can you do to improve your listening and your conversations?

  • Focus in on the person and conversation.
  • Suspend judgement of what is being said.
  • Be curious and ask questions, even the obvious ones.
  • Look for what you agree on first.
  • Find connections between what is being said to something you know.
  • Contribute to the natural back and forth of a conversation.
  • Refrain from formulating an answer while the other person is speaking.
  • Write down key notes about the conversation including questions that are coming up for you.
  • Suspend other activities and be present for the conversation. We can’t really multi-task even though we think we can.

Listening takes practice and because we have a natural ability to hear through our ears, we often believe we listen well. In “Mastery”, George Leonard writes, ”Our preoccupation with goals, results and the quick fix has separated us from our own experiences.”

Instead of taking your “listening” for granted, begin to practice it as if it was a skill you want to bring to a higher level similar to trying to improve your golf or tennis swing. Experiment with this idea and let me know how it goes. Share your experience in the comments below.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.