I recently had the amazing opportunity to participate in a Better Conversations seminar with instructional coaching leader Jim Knight. He shared ten habits for improving conversations that day which you can find in The Reflection Guide to Better Conversations.
I have been reflecting about my use of each habit, and I have to confess that sometimes I’m terrible at listening (Habit 2).
According to the book, “Next to having empathy for another person, becoming a good listener is paramount for effective communication.”
I feel like I have empathy down, but my listening needs to get in shape. Here are my bad habits and my plan for improving them.
Bad Habit #1: Technology
My laptop and phone are probably my biggest obstacles to better listening. I find that I can easily be sucked into the digital world so easily that I ignore the people right in front of me. At work, this normally looks like me being distracted by a new e-mail while I’m trying to have a coaching conversation. The illusion of efficiency is at the heart of these distractions — “If I multitask, I can accomplish more.” The truth is that rarely does multitasking help me accomplish much in a satisfactory manner, and oftentimes, it leaves me feeling more stressed and scattered.
Exercise #1: Remove the Technology
During conversations, I will close my laptop when it is not needed for the work at hand. If I need my laptop, I will close my e-mail to limit distractions. I will not pull out my phone or even leave it on the table.
Bad Habit #2: Rescuing
Coaching is about empowering others, rather than telling them what to do. However, I still struggle with trying to rescue others when they are struggling. Oftentimes, I find myself searching my mind for resources, solutions, and suggestions. Although that type of thinking is honorable and compassionate, it actually detaches me from listening. Once I’m no longer listening, I might make suggestions that are completely off-base because I only heard part of the issue when I detached. It is much better for me to ask more questions, so the teacher can begin forming their his or her own potential remedies.
Exercise #2: Ask More Questions.
When my mind is racing to find solutions, I will reframe those thoughts by asking questions. Questions can open up the conversation, helping my conversation partner generate his or her own solutions.
Bad Habit #3: Fear of Forgetting
Sometimes in the middle of a great conversation, I will think of a tool, a conversation, or an idea that I want to share with the teacher. I try to hang on to it in my memory, but eventually I will just blurt out what I was thinking — even when it’s not related to what the teacher was talking about at the time.
Exercise #3: Take and Make Notes
I find that taking notes helps me listen better in conversations. It also allows me to make notes of the things i want to remember to discuss before the conversation is over. Some people really feel “heard” when someone takes notes about a conversation. However, it is best to ask before taking them, since some teachers might find it uncomfortable. Always offer to leave your notes with the teacher after the conversation, so they have a record of their thinking as well as any ideas you wanted to share.
What are some of your own “bad habits” when it comes to listening? How do you try to be a better listener?