Be Interested, Not Interesting

May 12, 2015 | Insights

Let’s face it, we all like to hear our own voices. From quite a young age, we are taught to be experts. We learn how to tell stories, give advice, make decisions, give presentations. This starts in school and is reinforced as we join the workplace and become leaders. But how much time is spent learning how to question? How to really listen?

Real conversation is bi-directional. The very best way to engage others in conversation is to really be interested- which involves really listening to what is being said and then asking questions. Here are just a few ideas for improving your listening and questioning skills:

1) Don’t try to multi-task: We live in a world of distractions. But to really listen, we need to put away all the distractions, put our phones away, turn off the voices in our heads reminding us of the 200 other tasks we have to complete before the end of the day, and really hear what the other person is saying to us.

2) Take notes: Turns out that when you doodled in your notebook margins during class as a teenager, it probably was helping you listen more carefully to your history teacher. Recent research shows that writing things down, even doodling, can help you concentrate.

3) Listen to understand, not reply: When we listen, we often are trying to think of the next clever question we can ask. Instead, we should focus on really understanding what is being said. If we do this, the best questions will come naturally.

4) Repeat back: We can both show the person who’s speaking that we’re listening, and ensure we’re on the right page, but paraphrasing what is being said to us. Often this repetition not only helps us as a listener, it helps the speaker become even clearer on what he or she is communicating.

5) Listen for intent: Sometimes people don’t say what they mean. This might be because they haven’t sorted it out themselves yet, but this can also be because they aren’t yet comfortable articulating it. If you really listen deeply, not only to the specific words being used, but also the body language and the tone, you can understand more.

Be interested, not interesting. Ironically, the less we talk about ourselves and listen to others, the more interesting people think we are.