Friday, February 10, 2012


(This is part of my occasional series on what I learned in attending and teaching coaching seminars.)

How much time do you spending during the day listening to others? I mean really listening – not checking your email or doing other tasks while you’re on the phone with a friend (or client), but paying full attention to the speaker.

We listen at different levels in the course of a conversation. Sometimes, we are totally focused on ourselves, thinking about what we’re going to say when it’s our turn to talk, what we’ll have for dinner, why the chair isn’t adjusted properly… We’re spending more time listening to ourselves than to the speaker. The message we send the listener: It’s all about me.

Sometimes, we are completely focused on the speaker, fully processing what they are saying, and following them as they describe an event or problem. In these situations, we are fully attuned to the speaker, and fully present. This message:  It’s all about you.

Sometimes, we are not only focused on the speaker, but we are also aware of how other items within the environment at large are affecting the conversation (“The sun has shifted enough that the speaker is squinting. I’m going to shift to the left a little so that the speaker can shift as well.”) This kind of “environmental listening” can be useful, but may serve to be detrimental if the ability to listen to the speaker gets overridden by the environment. (“Boy, that police car is really racing. It’s loud, but will go away quickly. I wonder where they’re headed….”). The message: I’m paying attention to our interaction. Or possibly: Oh, look at that shiny object…

We are not able to listen fully while we are otherwise occupied. So pay attention to how you’re listening. Sometimes just being aware that we can drift away helps us stay focused. Taking notes, or using other active listening tools can be helpful too. Are you fully attentive, or is your attention elsewhere?

I find that I am just as guilty as the next person of floating off to my own little island and not paying real attention to the conversation at hand. In fact, I kept finding myself slide into the self-focused (non) listening style yesterday, especially while on phone calls. Why? I kept thinking about this piece that I wanted to write about listening!  

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