You and I have a lot to say. We want to share our experiences, our stories, with others. Sometimes we feel our story is so important we forget to listen. When we start telling our story we expect everyone will pay attention. The problem is that the other person in the room feels the same. They hear your story and cannot wait to tell theirs. What happens next is there are two speakers and no listeners. Their stories are lost to each other, they cannot be shared. When they walk away from each other, they are not aware of what just happened because they are still living the feeling of their stories. They don’t realize they were not heard.
I witnessed such a conversation the other day. Two people were together in a room. One of them began to talk about something in their life. The other person started listening but then interjected their story. The first person did not stop telling their story so both of them ended up telling their stories at the exact same time. I wondered, while watching this from the other room, if either of them would realize what was happening and stop to listen to what the other was saying. Neither of them did and eventually stopped talking at the same time. What happened then was interesting. They both said something quick and then parted ways.
I felt sad about what I had witnessed; two people who had just missed the mark, the opportunity to relate to each other. What made me even sadder was that they didn’t seem to notice. I was aware of times in the past when I’ve done the same thing. I know what it feels like to want to be the center of attention, the one telling the story. I’ve been willing to talk over someone else to get my point across. In hindsight, I can say that it didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t make me feel more important or listened to. The conversation felt uncomfortable and awkward. I wanted to get away, to hold my voice and withdraw. I realized over time that it was something I wanted to change. Now, when I find myself being talked over, I stop talking. I give the other person center stage and I listen. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to hear what that person has to say, to make them feel important. My story will be heard when the time is right with the right person. If that person cannot listen, then they are not meant to hear my words.
What happens to us when we stop and listen? How can it change who we are? Listening gives us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and others. It also gives teaches us to become more self-aware. To be able to truly listen is a skill, one that requires work to develop. When we listen to someone and hear what they are saying, we can respond and make a connection.
According to the Mind Tools website, “Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. One way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent. In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully. You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.”
Good communication skills can be used throughout all areas of your life. My favorite way to develop self-awareness is to watch myself interacting with others. What am I doing when they are speaking? Do I try to interject my story over theirs? Is the person to whom I am speaking listening to me? Am I thinking about something else while they are talking or am I focused on their words? When I watch my actions, I learn more about myself. I can then take what I have learned and incorporate it into my future interactions with others. Each time I learn a little more.
How many of you have ever witnessed a conversation when two people are talking at the same time? Have you ever caught yourself talking over someone’s story? What tools do you use to help grow your self-awareness? We all have something to learn from each other. Tell me your story. I’m listening.
Yours in transformation,