In his popular TED Talk, “5 Ways to Listen Better,” Julian Treasure makes this powerful statement about a disturbing trend in conversation:
“The art of conversation is being replaced, dangerously, I think, by personal broadcasting.”
Those of us who teach, lead, or give presentations pretty regularly might be at an even greater risk for this. Have those of us who are so used to monologues lost the art of the dialogue? Let’s take a look at 3 ways to make sure our conversations aren’t one-sided.
I referenced Julian Treasure above. He’s a sound and communication expert who has delivered 5 TED talks. He has boiled the benefits of listening down to five, saying that listening increases understanding, intimacy, inspiration, health, and learning. If these benefits all come from listening better, why isn’t everyone doing it?
Quite frankly, because it’s hard. It seems pretty simple, but active listening is one of the most difficult tasks we face each day. It takes energy and intentionality to be fully attuned to the person with whom you are conversing. We live in a busy, noisy, distracting world. But the person we are conversing with deserves our undivided attention. And the benefits we’ll reap both individually and collectively from the intentional focus of active listening are well worth the effort it takes.
Wait, didn’t I just cover this? Well, not exactly. Listening is not the same as stopping talking. Just because your mouth is closed doesn’t mean you are actively listening to the other person. For those of us who are used to doing the majority of the talking, it can be difficult to allow space for others to assume that role in conversation. If being in charge or being up front feels a bit addictive to you, there’s a good reason for that.
Author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, Judith Glaser, says that our bodies produce higher levels of reward hormones when we are expressing ourselves. In time, we start to recognize and crave the “high” that comes from talking. Then, we forget how conversation works, taking more than our fair share of talk time. She says, “While we’re being rewarded, the people we’re talking to might consciously or subconsciously feel cut off, invisible, unimportant, minimized and rejected, which releases the same neurochemicals as physical pain.” So it’s important that even though we might like the rush we get from talking, we allow others to express themselves too.
In a role-play study that Glaser conducted with high-powered sales executives, she found that 85% of their interactions with customers were telling statements while only 15% of the interactions were questions. And of those questions, almost all of them were “actually statements in disguise.” For those of us used to “selling” our ideas or our companies via presentations, we might find it more difficult to turn off the sales pitch when conversing with others. That can be combated with something Treasure calls “ferocious curiosity.” A good conversationalist is eager to know more about the person she’s talking with, and that means asking a lot of questions. Open-ended questions are invitations to expound, to continue the conversation.
Here’s an example. Imagine you are a manager at your company. You host a training seminar in which the featured speaker falls short of expectations and wastes your team’s time. You later stop by the office of an employee on your team and the conversation turns to the training seminar. If you are used to talking more than listening or being in the lead, you might be tempted to ask, “Did the training seminar frustrate you today?” This question doesn’t allow for much response beyond “yes” or “no.” In addition, it assumes that your employee has the same feelings toward the seminar that you did. Instead, try asking, “how did you feel about the training seminar earlier today?” This open-ended and earnest question allows him to speak freely of his opinions and also clearly indicates that he has “the floor.”
Sometimes it just takes recognizing our propensity to deliver monologues instead of engaging in true dialogues with those around us. But once we become aware of this pattern, we can start to listen, allow others more space to talk, and ask open-ended questions that place value in the continued conversation and learning process.
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