The Forgotten Skill

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I don’t mind talkative people. As long as someone is filling in the empty spaces of silence, I’m perfectly content sitting back and letting the person prattle on. My only pet peeve is when said prattler doesn’t listen when I speak, and mistakes my moving lips for an optical illusion combining light and my shiny lip gloss. Having grown up in an Italian family where people are constantly talking over (and about) each other, I’ve had my social patience put to the test. I have one family member who will interrupt me with a “you think that’s bad?” or “just wait ’til  you hear this one” and proceed to tell me a story that I’ve heard seventeen times before, with a new embellishment added every time:

“…so the guy must have been, like, 400 pounds.”

“That guy gains 50lbs every time you tell that story,” I think to myself.

So I’ll say it. A lot of women love to talk. And talk. And talk. But here’s the kicker: According to data we collected at Queendom, we also happens to be good listeners – at least most of us. Statistics from our Interpersonal Communication Skills Test reveal that not only are women more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, they are also better listeners, and are good at empathizing with others. Women have a knack for handling touchy-feely conversations with ease, and are comfortable dealing with other people’s emotions, skills that many family/marriage counselors believe are the key to happy relationships. In fact, Queendom’s data reveals that people with good communication skills tend to get into fewer arguments, and rate their relationships with family, friends, coworkers/classmates, and romantic partners more positively than those with poor skills.

It would be unfair, however, to give men a thorough tongue-lashing here. I know a lot of women who are an exception to the statistics and will talk over and through you. As you get louder, they’ll raise their voice an octane higher.  The thing is, even if you are the most gifted speaker the most commonly overlooked social skill still remains the ability to listen, and this is where both genders can redeem themselves – particularly overly-talkative women (you know who you are) and eyes-glazing-over type men.  So here are some tips:

  • Listen for understanding, not evaluation. Focus on understanding what the speaker is trying to communicate and shut off your internal judge.
  • “Verbalize” your listening. Let the person know that you’re listening by adding in the occasional “I see,” “uh huh,” “Right…go on” and be genuine about it. Simply adding in these verbal cues in the semblance of interest is not akin to listening, and you may end up saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment.
  • Empathize – put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What seems completely unreasonable from your point of view might make perfect sense from someone else’s perspective. Perhaps the ideal solution lies in the middle. Try and keep some distance from the issue and be objective.
  • Rid yourself of distracting mannerisms. Habits such as finger-tapping, fiddling with coins or jewelry, or staring off into space tells the person speaking that you are not fully listening and makes it seem like you don’t care (I have a friend who taps his fingers when people talk to him, like he’s counting down to the end of the conversation. I think it’s a nervous gesture, but it really annoys people). Pinpoint what your habits are and focus on eliminating them.
  • Be aware of facial expressions. This is a crucial aspect of listening. One raised eyebrow, one sarcastic smirk, one set of flared nostrils and bam! The conversation takes a bad turn. Your facial expressions reveal a lot about you. If you disapprove of or do not agree with what a speaker has said, try to remain as patient as possible. If you frown or roll your eyes, the speaker may interpret it as criticism and become defensive or even hostile.

 Don’t…

  • Interrupt. Hold your comments until after the speaker has finished; even if there’s something you disagree with, hear the person out. Interrupting is probably the biggest social faux pas.
  • Offer your two cents. Keep in mind that the speaker may not even want your advice; they might just want you to listen. Unless they ask for feedback, limit your input to paraphrasing and verbal cues.
  • Be dramatic. When someone is feeling down, don’t overly-dramatize it (e.g. “Oh, that’s absolutely horrible!”) or make contorted facial expressions. And refrain from adding in your own sob story. You may think that it makes people feel better but to them, it will seem as if you’re downplaying their feelings and story in relation to your own.
  • Do two things at once. Research has shown that is it very difficult to fully concentrate when we attend to two tasks at once, such that our attention to, and perception of, the information we receive is greatly diminished (like driving while talking on the phone!) So guys, if you’re listening to your girlfriend/wife while watching the game, chances are that you are going to miss out on quite a bit of information..and might as well stay on the couch for the rest of the night, because that’s where you’ll probably be sleeping.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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One thought on “The Forgotten Skill

  1. As an introvert, I am drained by people who fill empty air with the sound of their own voice. Oh I have suffered greatly with a former boss who would say “yeah, yeah”, and “That’s right” over the top of people who were trying to explain something. Not after they are finished, or even paused, but right over the top of them. Distracting to the point where people would lose their train of thought, and omit vital details. Rude to the point where people were painfully aware she didn’t really care about anyone else’s professional expertise. (Then why hire them?) Then, to add insult to injury, she would sum up what was said – by giving her own opinion, which differed 180 degrees from the information just given. Not listening at all, just pretending to listen. It was well known she wasn’t a listener, and she would often get caught out.
    If you want to show you are actually listening, then listen! You can ask a question to clarify a detail of what you are being told, but any phrase or gesture that becomes a habit, actually shows you are not listening at all. If you want to give feedback to the speaker, do not just react to the fact that someone else is talking, you need to react appropriately to what is actually being said. You can only do this by listening.
    If you want to show you are listening….. then listen! You don’t need to force the appearance of listening with clever psychological tips and tricks. If you actually listen, the rest – curiosity, discovery, reaction, feedback – will come naturally. Don’t fake listening, or people will catch you out too!

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