“Conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.” ~ Scott Barnwell.

 

I confess, I feel infinitely more comfortable speaking to people through written dialogue – be it via email, text or blog post – rather than face to face.

The average millennial sends more than 100 texts a day. Almost all of us are more likely to text our friends than we are to talk face-to-face—so it appears as if I am not alone in my preference for screen-to-screen communication.

Like landlines, analog clocks, and mail by post, having a live conversation with someone is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

But is it possible that our modern day “listening” skills of checking our texts rather than communicating with people in person are contributing to the growing dissonance in the world? Sure, people are “speaking,” but are we actually receptive and listening to what the other person is saying?

A study done by Pew Research of 10,000 American adults found that we are more polarized and more divided, than we ever have been in history. And that study was done before the election.

We’re less likely to compromise, which means we’re not listening to each other. We make decisions about where to live, who to marry and even who our friends are going to be based on what we already believe. Again, that means we’re not listening to each other.

It seems that over the shift to digital means of communication, we have in fact forgotten how to communicate the old fashioned way – in person.

I recently listened to an engaging and eloquently delivered Ted Talk by Celeste Headlee on how to have a better conversation with people (as in real life, in front of you now people), and in it she shares some great strategies on how to have better conversation:

  1. Don’t multitask – don’t be half in the conversation and half out of it. If you want to get out of the conversation, get out of the conversation. But don’t be half in and half out.

2. Don’t pontificate. The famed therapist M. Scott Peck said that true listening requires a setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personal opinion. He said that sensing this acceptance, the speaker will become less and less vulnerable and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener.

Enter a conversation with the assumption that you have something to learn.

Use open ended question. Start with who, what, where, when, and how. Give the person the chance to speak without limiting or influencing their response in the way you ask the question. For example, “How did you feel?” rather than, “Were you terrified?”

3. Go with the flow. Thoughts, stories and ideas will come in to your head while the person is talking. Let them come and let them go.

If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Talk should not be cheap.

4. Don’t equate your experience with others. If they’re talking about the time they lost a family member, don’t start talking about the time that you lost a family member. If they’re talking about their trouble at work, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job. It’s not the same. It’s never the same. All experiences are individual.

5. Try not to repeat yourself.

6. Stay out of the weeds. People don’t actually care about the details of your life, they care about what you’re like, what you have in common.

7. Listen. If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.

 

Why do we not listen to each other?

Celeste believes there a couple reasons:

Number one, we’d rather talk. When we’re talking, we’re in control. We don’t have to hear anything we’re not interested in. We’re the center of attention. We can bolster our own identities.

Number two – we get distracted.

The average person speaks at about 225 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute. So our minds are basically trying to fill in the extra 275 words.

“Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.” ~ Scott Convey

8. Be interested in other people.

Celeste tells of how she had a famous grandfather and how people would come over to visit him. After the visitor left, her mom would come over to them and she’d say, “Do you know who that was? She was the runner-up to Miss America. He was the mayor of Sacramento. She won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s a Russian ballet dancer.” Celeste grew up assuming that everyone has some hidden, amazing thing about them.

She believes that’s what makes her a better host.

“I keep my mouth shut as often as I can, I keep my mind open and I’m always prepared to be amazed. And I’m never disappointed.”

Listen and be prepared to be amazed.

 

~

Originally published on Elephant Journal.

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