How to Listen in an Age of INTERNAL Distractions

| | Personal Leadership
How to Listen in an Age of Internal Distractions

Listening well is hard work. To do it effectively, you must be both focused and present. Yet, in our age of attention deficit, it can be difficult to create the mental space necessary to really listen to another human being. The mechanics may be simple, but keeping the concentration necessary to process meaning is not.

Part I considered the external distractions you might encounter when you are trying to listen, and how you could minimize their impact.

However, the outside world isn’t the only source of distractions: our internal world brings a whole other set of potential distractions to the equation.

These internal distractions are perhaps the most challenging of all. Their source can be your physical and/or emotional state, your beliefs and attitudes, as well as your commitments and concerns.

Which leads me to this week’s listening challenge. Melissa Whittle shared her greatest listening challenge via Twitter, and it goes right to the heart of our internal distractions:

Silencing internal dialogue and being fully present.

While someone is speaking, you aren’t just listening to them. You are also listening to the conversation going on in your own mind. It’s a bit like talking on two phones at once — except on one line another person is talking, and on the other it’s the little voice in your head that’s doing the talking. It is impossible to listen to both at the same time.

Unfortunately, the harder you try to stop the internal chatter, the more boisterous it tends to get.

Instead of trying to stop the internal dialogue, I suggest you try one or more of these strategies:

1.  Know the purpose of the conversation ahead of time.

Why are you in this conversation to begin with? If you don’t know, find out! If there is a good reason for you to be listening, your mind will be more likely to let the speaker take center stage. If not, then the issue is something other than your ability to listen.

2.  Practice occasionally “repeating” back what you heard.

It doesn’t have to be verbatim.  Say something like, “are you saying _____?” or “let me make sure I understand what you have said so far . . .” If you know you are going to have to demonstrate you were actually listening, your mind will be more likely to let you. After all, your mind is typically trying to protect you, so it really wouldn’t want to make you look bad! The best part is, this practice usually results in the speaker experiencing being heard.

3.  Empty your mind by writing down all the thoughts in your head just before the conversation starts. 

It could be a worry, a fear, an idea, something you forgot to do, someone you forgot to call, etc. If something comes up while you are in the conversation, write it down if you can so it doesn’t get in the way. That way, you won’t worry about forgetting something, so you really can be present. The list will be there when you are done.

4.  Engage the speaker by asking a question.

This is a very effective way to direct the speaker to address what matters to you. Besides, a conversation can be much easier to stay present for than a presentation.

5.  When you notice that “little voice” chattering away in your mind, choose to shift your attention back to the speaker. 

By that, I don’t mean try to get it to stop. That internal dialogue is trying to drag you into its conversation, so the key is to not think about what it is saying or why. Just notice it and let it be. When you consciously choose to shift your attention back to the speaker, it will fade into the background naturally.

Is staying present and silencing the internal dialogue a challenge for you? What strategies do you use that have worked?



Image Copyright: bowie15 / 123rf.com


Enter A Comment

Mindy McCorkle   |   01 August 2017   |   Reply

#3 is brilliant! I try to use the other techniques but emptying my mind by writing down my thoughts before important conversations is something I’m going to try TODAY!

Susan Mazza   |   01 August 2017   |   Reply

Awesome! Let me know how it goes 🙂

Mino Akhtar   |   06 September 2017   |   Reply

Hi Susan, thanks for sharing these powerful tactics…I also like to coach people that it is the state of “being” that you enter into when listening, very similar to the purpose of the conversation. Who will you be in this conversation for the speaker? What can you contribute to their being and wellness by listening? How might your listening impact their and your learning and growth?

Susan Mazza   |   06 September 2017   |   Reply

Great questions Mino! Thanks for adding to the thinking here.