We are not stupid. We know when someone has switched off, oblivious to our words, distracted with thoughts about what’s in the offing for dinner that night, or their concern about the next meeting on the never-ending list of meetings…
But now, more than ever, feeling that you are being truly listened to and acknowledged is crucial. So much of our everyday existence is out of our control, and there is a nationwide feeling of uncertainty about what the future holds. Of course, this throws up a multitude of insecurities, and the sense of being powerless is increasing anxiety and mass low-level depression. So many of us are admitting to feeling lonelier, more overwhelmed, more exhausted. And we need someone to hear us.
The amplified use of video calls has taken its toll too. It’s so much harder to deeply listen through a screen. Regardless of the inevitable irritations of speaking over each other, or the internet suddenly taking a lunch break, or your dog/toddler/partner howling voraciously in the background, the very fact that you can’t fully utilise the sensory markers of your colleagues makes deep connections more challenging.
Julia, who leads a customer services team for an online retailer, reveals: ‘Whenever I try to have tricky conversations with my boss, he actually says, “I hear you, I hear you”. But, in fact it’s the complete opposite. It’s a trite way of shutting down the situation; a one-liner that trips off his tongue without any true meaning. I find it so frustrating.’
Because most people are now working from home, and reports claim that almost half of the UK’s biggest employers have no plans to return to the office in the foreseeable future, the isolation that this can bring is often debilitating. Securing strong bonds has never been so important, and a conscious effort to build multi-layered and trusting relationships is crucial.
To be successful, managers don’t have to fill a diary with endless meetings, but interactions embedded with nuanced attention and authenticity will be the ones to reap the most valid results.
To quote Nancy Kline from her book The Promise That Changes Everything: I Won’t Interrupt You (Penguin): ‘We all long for this, the promise of no interruption, the promise of interest, the promise of attention while we think, the promise of this much respect for us all as human beings. We long for that gentle, rigorous expanse that produces felt thinking and thoughtful feeling. Every day, in every interaction, vital or trivial, we hope for the kind of presence that lets our brains and hearts find themselves.’
She goes on to explain that very few people – even our nearest and dearest – can be entrusted to let us speak freely. In fact, we all interrupt each other. Even the professional therapists, coaches, doctors, teachers… aren’t great at keeping their mouths zipped tight. According to the Gottman Institute in Seattle, three years ago the average listening time of professional listeners was 20 seconds. Now it is 11.
The problem with being interrupted is that we then tend to give up. Having someone not want to listen to what you’ve got to say diminishes us. We can feel inferior and ignored, and the knock-on effect manifests in anger, resentment and detachment.
At Untapped AI, we aim to listen intently. Our data shows that the more a client is given the space to speak freely, the more able they are to adopt change, build trust, face truths about themselves, establish confidence and an understanding of others’ needs.
Yet there is a level of determination involved to make this process work. To listen deeply to another, and to build a strong connection, requires commitment. Even humility. It doesn’t come easy for us to hand the other person the authority to lead the conversation while we immerse ourselves completely in what they have to say. Come on, let’s be honest - we tend to regard a conversation as an opportunity to share our opinion, show off what we know, put right some wrong, scratch a curiosity itch, or simply to dominate. But, if we surrender ourselves to the current of another’s flow and listen deeply to what they have to say, it might just be for the good of us all.
Consciously commit to listening to what another person has to say.
Be aware of their body language and try to read the unspoken.
Be curious about what another is saying and if a question is relevant, ask something powerful and progressive.
Even if you are an expert on the topic being discussed, try to listen to their version rather than impart your own knowledge.
Consider the emotions which may be going on behind the words. Someone saying: ‘I don’t need your help now’ might be interpreted as, ‘But I did need it 10 minutes ago and now I’m feeling resentful and overlooked.’
Say, ‘I’d like to hear more’.
Don’t fiddle, look elsewhere often, check your phone.
If someone seems upset, acknowledge it. Pretending anger or sadness isn’t happening makes a person feel ignored.
Be honest. If situations feel uncomfortable, it’s better to be up front: ‘I’m finding this hard, but let’s keep going. It’s important that we try to work this out.’