Is it really a big surprise that people complain about not being heard, or not being understood?
We learn at a very young age how to use our voices to speak, to show and tell – as in telling people about yourself. Fewer people learn how to use their ears to engage.
I couldn’t get this little verbal exchange off my mind. In conversations, I noticed 2 types of responses to my question, “What is the best way to talk to people and really connect?”
One type of person, I call them Couch Coaches, reacts by dismissing the question with the wearied air of someone who has seen it all and say, “It’s all in your body language. Slouch when you speak and boom! – who’s going to listen to you?” and will go on to explain in exhilarated detail that all people are suspicious of anyone with poor posture.
The other type, the Misunderstood and Mortified, often seize this as an opening for airing a long speech about how rude everyone is and launch into a story about a friend who refuses to speak to anyone in his family unless they apologize. “Apologize for what?” I asked. “Oh, he keeps a list for everyone’s convenience. People are busy, you know.”
Give it a shot. Ask the next person you happen to run into, “What is the best way to talk to people and really connect?” and listen to what they tell you.
Try asking yourself and listen to what you tell yourself.
What I told myself was something Agatha Christie said about how to find a murderer:
Conversation reveals all.
It can’t be a coincidence that the best conversations begin with open ears, not open mouths.
Many writing teachers say that to be a better writer, read more books. This is sound advice for people communicating through words on paper. For everyone who wants to become better at speaking, listen more.
And listen better.
Once a month, I sit with 5 young women who are emerging leaders of color in Queens and we practice listening in a peer circle. And forming better questions that clarify, probe and magically help each of us to snap back to those wonderful Aha! moments. This is a simple and oh so effective way to get people into the practice of listening with power and intent that has forever lowered my tolerance for insufferable conversations.
We listen in focused silence to each other, 20 minutes per person.
When was the last time you held the uninterrupted attention of 5 people listening to your every word?
We speak in reflective questions, never statements.
No one hijacks the conversation saying things like, “Oh, that just happened to me last week, this is what you should do about it…” or “I know exactly what you mean.” What we can ask is, “Can you clarify what you mean when you said…?”
All of our deeper and more probing questions can begin with either What or Where.
This forces you to rethink and reframe what you want to say into a question that makes the person reflect on what they just said. “What would success look like for you?” Simple, but it works.
We are clear about what we need and what we want to share.
Sometimes you need to talk through a knotty problem, sometimes you want guidance, but most of the time you just have to trust that you already know the answers and that the shared focus of your peers will ricochet that back to you.
Sharing. It is such a casually explored word.
At it’s best, it can change your worldview. At it’s worst, it is no different than knitting an ugly Christmas sweater for someone you love.
You love to knit, you love these wild and woolly colors, you’d love to give this to someone near and dear to you who you didn’t give the chance to tell you what they really want or what would make them happy.
Is this sharing?
No, this is colonizing, an activity measured in skeins.
Sharing without listening is an exercise is self flattery.
Listening, done well, is the beginning of empathy. It makes for better conversations and knitwear.
About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.