Girl Interrupting – Three Things I’ve Learned About Listening

I love Oprah. I have admired her for years – I’ve watched her show, I listen to her podcasts and follow her on social media. But she tends to be an interrupter. She’ll have the most amazing and interesting guest and constantly interject while they are speaking, not allowing for the guest to tell more of their story. Now I get it, she’s got to keep the show going, she’s got people talking to her in an earpiece, she has commercials that have to be played, she’s got tight timelines to meet. But the interrupting sometimes makes me crazy.

And, Carl Jung said everything that irritates us about others can lead to us to an understanding of ourselves. Ugh. This is not about Oprah.

So, here we go, confession time…

I’m an interrupter (actually, a recovering interrupter). I’ve been like this all my life. I can’t help myself, especially when I get excited in a conversation. I know this about myself, I have a high awareness about this innate flaw in my character, and I still struggle not to interrupt someone else in a conversation.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone when you felt so deeply listened to? You look at your watch at some point in time and realize hours have gone by in a flash? Isn’t that an amazing feeling when you’ve been completely immersed in a deep, meaningful conversation? What a gift!

And in coaching, the most critical skill is to listen. And I now call myself a recovering interrupter as I know this is a lifelong learning and growth edge for me and I work on being a better listener every single day (yes, some days are better than others).

If you want to tap into being a better listener, there is no shortage of great resources out there.  And while I am definitely no professional on this topic, I have learned three important things about listening:

  • Get off the roller coaster – it’s been a challenge for me to quiet my mind. I’m hoping I’m not alone in this, but my brain is like non-stop. Some days (most days) my brain is like a roller coaster – it is zinging along at 100 miles per hour, whipping around corners and just when I think it’s slowing down, it launches me around a loop-d-loop. It never seems to stop. So, for me, I need to intentionally work on quieting my mind, attempt as much as I can to step off the roller coaster for a time and allow for space to slow the brain down and really listen. A five-minute meditation helps me tremendously here.
  • The first date – I tend to listen to respond and when I first did my coaching training, I learned about deeper listening. I’ve seen a few different versions of this, and in general, there are three levels of listening.
    • Level 1: Listening to respond – I call this the tip of the iceberg listening – factual, sharing of data and really a surface level listening. This works when providing quick instruction or information.
    • Level 2: Listening to deepen your understanding and get closer to the core of the issue – as a friend and colleague of mine says, this is like a first date. There is a high level of engagement in the conversation, an interest to get beneath the surface of the iceberg and discover more about the core of person and get to the heart of the matter. Best practice here for me is to ask questions, stay in the conversation, be really curious.
    • Level 3: Have you ever walked into a room of people and felt the tension in the room? This level is about picking up on the energy and the emotion, the deeper values and desires – this is the depth of the iceberg. This is where we feel most genuinely listened to – that this person listening seems to really understand me. It helps me in this level, picking up on emotion or energy, to pay attention to my own body. Do I feel butterflies, goosebumps, jittery? That’s usually a sign there is something bigger at play and then I get to work getting curious about that energy.
  • Silent – it is right there in this word. Move the letters around and silent = listen. Stop talking, when I’m talking, I am not listening. I’m not even going to pretend I can multi-task to be a listener and a talker at the exact same time – for me this is just not possible. For me to do this effectively, stopping talking, I take a very deep breath and just sit.

A few years back I knew the time with my Grandpa was limited and there was going to be a day, too soon, when he would not be here. I knew I had to be extra diligent in my listening. So, we’d put a beer in his hand and ask him about his life. Then stop and listen, really listen. I truly believe this was a mutual gift – with nostalgia and an incredible long-term memory he would share story after story of his life. With awe and wonder, I would sit and listen, soaking up the gift of his voice and the tales of his simple yet adventurous life.

Listening will always be a life-long practice for me and I’m going to do my best, each day, to be just a little bit better than I was yesterday.

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear”. ~ A.A. Milne

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