Becoming an Active Listener


Becoming an Active Listener


Lesson Info

I'm Listening. But Are We Really?

So let's move on to the barriers. We've talked a little bit about these but let's go into these in a little bit more detail. There seems to be, these days, a real almost loss of desire or kind of like the patience to actually listen to what others have to say, and I don't know whether you've noticed that or not. I know, you know, but like, but, it's, it seems to be part of our culture, is how, kind of like, you know, how can you make people kind of actually pay attention to me? We're too engrossed in our own thoughts. We're too eager to want to kind of like have our own way. My way or the highway, right? So we're constantly, rather than listening, we're constantly trying to steer the conversation in a direction that we want it to go. Or we're too distracted, as we talked about, to pay attention. I love this quote, kind of like, you know, from, it's a great little online magazine. "To a digital generation, our undivided attention" "is the greatest gift we can give each other." You know,...

put the phones down. Put the laptops or the iPads away, and actually pay attention to each other. And how often have you seen people in a restaurant sitting opposite each other at a table and they're both on their phones, right? They're like, they're not paying any attention to each other whatsoever. So that's the first, that's, you know, that is the first barrier, is paying attention. Here are a whole list of other things that can kind of like, you know, can stop you and distractions we've talked about, noise. Noise is one of the biggest distractions. You know, if you're actually in a noisy place, it's very difficult to really just pay attention to somebody, right? Interruptions, we've talked about. Personal bias, that's our judgemental brain coming in, and cultural differences. I mean, that is probably one of the biggest things. There are, you know, obviously, very, a lot of different, of culture, a lot of cultures have different ways of communicating. And we'll talk about this in a minute, but there's high-context and low-context cultures, and that makes a huge difference. And particularly, as we've become much more of a multicultural, you know, society, we just need to understand where people are coming from. Projection. One of those lovely kind of like things that people love to do when they're trying to point fingers. Lack of interest, as we've talked about, and short attention span, I mean, we just have short attention spans these days. You know, so, we have to kind of like, so. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna go through each one of those, so that we can understand them. For the first three, which is distractions, noise, and interruptions, you know, here it's like, you can control those. You can control those, the person that your trying to have listen to you, can control those. It's called put your blinkers on. It's like, like, it's like the horse, right, when it's running a race, you put blinkers on, so they're just focused on going straight to run the race. And that's what everybody needs to do if they're actually going to really listen, is put blinkers on. Distractions, get them out of your head, or put them away. Noise, move to a quieter place, right, so that you can actually understand. Interruptions, just don't let people interrupt you. So those three are relatively simple because we can control them really easily. So the biggest obstacles we face in life are the barriers, the barriers our mind creates. So, personal barriers. These are the ones that are in your subconscious. They're the things that you don't really think about, that don't really come to the surface. We have to accept that we have personal biases. We have personal barriers. We have to find a way to get past them. I mean, we all have them. They can be minor, and they can be major. But we all have them and we need to figure out a way to get past them if we really want to have strong interpersonal relationships. Otherwise they, they really do lead to misinterpretation, cultural misunderstanding, and you know, and a lack of respect and trust, because this is the biggest barrier that we have to having strong interpersonal relationships, is our own personal biases. It's our preconceived opinions. Somebody is trying to ... get you to change the way you do something. I've always done it this way. It's the right way. (laughs) And I'm not changing. (laughs) It can be something like that. It can be a preconceived opinion, you know, about, you know, just something else entirely but that's where we kind of dig our heels in, we're not open to listening to new ideas, and it's, you know, and it's really not based on any real reason, or actual experience per se. And so, you know, you have to kind of like try and, you know, get beyond those. Treat everybody as we would want to be treated. I mean, we say that a lot, but, how often do we really do it? I worked in the entertainment business, right? The TV business. A lot of egos in the TV business. There's a lot of egos, there's a lot of people that think they know how to, that they, you know, that how they do it is right. They ... do not practice what they preach. They say it's an open environment, that you can, you know, kind of like, you know, voice your opinion at any time, and then you just get shot down and shot down and shot down and shot down. It can be really really tricky environment to work in. And it doesn't make you feel very good, right? I mean, there was one network I worked at and for six months I think, every day I went in to work and I felt as if I was walking on eggshells. Constantly walking on eggshells. It's really demoralizing. It's stressful, and nobody picked up on that. Now, I'm sure my facial expressions, my body language and even the way I was performing at work all said it, but nobody picked up on it and I just kept getting slammed, slammed, slammed, slam. So, needless to say, I left. Because, you know, why would you want to lead your life like that, right? So it happens in a lot of places and we just have to make sure that we are not the ones doing it to other people. Inclusion. It makes us feel valued and it elevates all of us. And I mean, that was a quote by Elaine Hall who is a great author. And it's true, right, if we really are going to be active listeners, be good workmates, be good, kind of like, you know, soulmates, have great friend relationships, I mean, it is about including everybody no matter who they are, no matter where they've come from, and really making sure that we practice inclusion. And be honest with ourselves, like, you know, sometimes when somebody's saying something you can feel yourself reacting negatively to it and we probably don't really stop to think about why am I acting negatively to this? You know, why aren't I just listening to what they're saying? It could be obviously because we disagree wholeheartedly with what they're saying, but, you know, everybody is, kind of like, you know, everybody's opinion does count, and if we really want to actively listen to everybody we need to kind of like do that and then argue the opposite if we want to, right? It's where debate societies are a great practice place for this, I was in a debate society when I was kind of like in, in high school. My father forced me to go into it, and you have to be able to argue the other side of an argument even if you actually wholeheartedly disagree with it. But it really helps for situations like this. I think also being honest with the person in front of you, because happen to me, sometime the people want to tell me, so they watched a movie and they want to tell me the story of the movie. And I'm not interested, I don't want to listen the entire story of the movie, especially if the person keep going for 10 minutes. And so right away I say no no, stop it, because I'm not gonna listen to you. I don't like to hear the story of the movie. Don't even start. (laughs) Or, for the person that's telling you the story, I mean, as they go on, they should see that you're becoming less interested, right? Because again, it's back to watching people's faces, watching their body language, and say, oh sorry, I'm clearly boring you, right? So I mean it works both ways. It works for the speaker and because you have to be in a sense listening to your audience, which is one of the big lessons for actors, right? And it works the other way, where you can just be honest with yourself, I'm not interested in this conversation, right? Yeah, no, I was thinking, that's a good one, that's a good one. Cultural barriers, you know, obviously we live in a highly multicultural ... world these days and cultural barriers can, actually, really, stop us from being able to have those real strong interpersonal relationships. There are what they call high-context and low-context cultures. There's the cultures, right, where everybody is very tactile and there are cultures like I grew up in in Britain where everybody is very ... right? How'd you do? Right? And then we're, we're much more reserved, if you like, would be the better way of putting it. So, understanding the culture of the, and environment that the person you're actually talking to grew up in and what they are, what is norm for them in terms of high-context or low-context, really kind of really does help when you're trying to build that relationship and trying to really listen to them. So, high-context is where kind of like, you know, you have, you actually have to give them more information. Low-context is where, is much more like, the norm here in the States where it's just very cut and dried facts, you know, bang bang bang, bullet points. That's the classic way of saying it, is bullet points. There's not an awful lot of explanation. Other cultures, demand more explanation. And it affects how you communicate with somebody, right? Projection ... Is a form of defense, right? How many times have you actually had somebody kind of jump in and be very defensive and, it wasn't my fault, it was their fault! It wasn't my fault, it was his fault! That classic finger pointing that happens all the time is projection and projection is a defense mechanism and it is where ... the person tries to ... offload everything onto everybody else. Everybody else is responsible. Now, in a situation like this, it's really really difficult to keep kind of like your active listening skills going because what you really need to do is get to the bottom of why they're actually, they're doing that, and why they feel that they have actually been attacked, because that's how they're feeling, right? So separating the feelings from what actually happened is really the issue here in terms of really getting to the bottom of that. And taking responsibility for your actions, right? People just have to take responsibility. It's okay to ... to make mistakes, just as long as you learn from them and move forward and not try and blame everybody else for them. Lack of interest. This is what you were just talking about, Karla, right? If the discussion is not important to you, steer it in another direction, and if it is important to you, really just try and focus on the key relevant points that are being made, because, there are going to be times, as we've all done, and I know I have in work meetings, where, you know, they're going through the budget for the 10th time and you're like, (snoring), right? So you really try and have to just focus on the key relevant points rather than trying to take all of it in. Because all of it may not be of interest to you. And then the one that we all know so well, short attention span. Our attention span is getting worse, and nowadays, we are only really present 53% of the time. The rest of the time, so half of our waking hours, we're present for something, and half of our waking hours, we're not. We're not paying attention at all to anything in particular. That's, I've found that, I've found that to be quite an astonishing number, because we think we're paying attention, but we're not. So we're zoned out in a sense, you know. We're having, we're thinking random thoughts. It's when all those, you know, kind of like random thoughts come into your head, where, you know, we're making lists, we're making, we're doing this, but we're actually not focusing. So, things that help us focus, doodling. Now, this might sound really strange, but it goes back to what you were saying, what we were saying earlier, Laura, about the, the hand and the brain. It's actually been scientifically proven now that if you're in a meeting or if you're in a conversation and let's say as you said that you're not really interested, doodling can actually help you concentrate, because again, it's the hand-brain, and it helps you, it helps you focus in. I've always been a great doodler, and, you know, growing up, my mother used to say, "Oh for heaven's sakes, will you stop that?" Kind of like, you know, doodling, it's like, you know, pay attention, pay attention! But now there's actually scientific evidence that says it is, you are paying attention. It helps you concentrate. Take notes by hand, we talked about, and ask questions, which we discussed this a little bit too. Asking questions really helps you remember what people are saying. Okay, so this one you're going to have to pair up. Pair up. So, I know there's five of us, but we're going to do ... two and two, yes? So what I wanted you to do is to spend a few minutes discussing with each other the barriers you think you're most prone to when you're trying to listen to somebody. And then, and then come up with some ideas of how you might overcome those barriers, and then we're gonna share with the group and with the people watching the livestream. Okay, so just take a few minutes, so maybe turn your chairs around to face each other. Can we do that? Or just sit, just so you can hear each other, right? And so talk a bit about the barriers you're prone to and how you might overcome those. So just learning to slow down, I think it's important for me. So when you talk about anxiousness, do you, is this for just this scenario or other scenarios? I think I get it in this, and then if I'm meeting somebody new. Oh. Mm-hmm. I don't want to listen, so I can listen to the first or the second, but then, I mean, I can listen for one minute, but then I don't want to spend 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes listening to something I'm not interested, so if this- I know, I, I think it's, I vary. Sometimes I can shift and I'm very much in the moment, but oftentimes, it's like, I need to consciously remind myself, okay, this is a moment for you to stop and be present. Mm. But yeah, I think my brain ... Okay, so what were ... the most common barriers that you were prone to, the two of you? Well, for me, it's ... I'll be focused on work or whatever task I'm doing, and, not, I think, taking the time to disengage from that and really, really make that person a priority who might be trying to communicate something to me. The disengaging from the task you were already into. Right, all right. So your suggestion of, you know, you actually having a physical place that you walk over to and talk to somebody, you know, even if you don't do that physically I think it's making that, that, you know, mental, doing that exercise to, to disengage from whatever task I'm doing and really pay attention. Right, and if you, and I think that's a really good example, and if you can't physically walk to another space, what you can do is you can close the laptop, right? Or you can make ... a very deliberate move of moving your keyboard away from you, right? Again, so you're just, you're just intimating to that person that you are setting something aside. It also helps you disengage, right? Yeah. Right? So, because it works on both sides, I mean, you know, it's horrible if somebody comes, if you go in to talk to somebody and they don't disengage, right, so. But yes, if you can't physically move to, as I said, the table and the chairs, there are other things you can do to ... To make sure people realize, and make your own brain realize that you're disengaging, right? What else did you come up with? Yeah, for me, so I usually pay a lot of, a lot of attention when people talk to me, but if I don't like the topics they are talking about, so again, after one minute, two minutes, I don't want to stay there anymore listening. And so, some people like to tell jokes. I don't like jokes, I don't laugh, I don't care. After one, two, three jokes, for me, is enough. (laughs) And so it seems rude, but I prefer to say to the person, please don't tell me any joke anymore because I'm not paying attention anymore. Or if someone is gonna tell you the story of, I don't know, I don't know, gossip, or neighbors stuff, I don't care. I don't care about, I pay a lot of attention if someone is talking to me about their feelings and their insight, something that they lived, so, but ... But you're an artist, right? And that's why you actually like kind of hearing about people's feelings, right, because that's where you get your inspiration from. So in a sense, I mean if we were really going to break that down, that's because you're also getting something out of it, so you're bringing your own personal bias, right? As opposed to the more rational, right? So you're, because your personal bias as an artist, is to go to feelings. Because that's how you express yourself, right? So if, you know, if we were being really nitty gritty about it, we could say that that was you going to a personal bias of yours. I see. Right? Probably more likely, it's more, as you say, there are going to be subjects that are uninteresting. You know, the, as I said, the amount of budget meetings I had to sit through. But interestingly, if you actually pay attention at budget meetings, it's amazing what happens because then, of course, I became an entrepreneur, and I had to put my, to put together, I mean, even though I put together budgets, I didn't put together the whole budget for the company obviously when I worked for the company, but sitting in budget meetings, and actually paying attention, helped me when I became an entrepreneur because then I knew how to put together a complete P and L. Who knew, right, that one day I would actually need that skill? So, trying to pay attention more from a, I wonder what I might learn from this, is also a way to look at topics or subjects that you think might be uninteresting. You know, if a client is going on and on about their day, try asking them some questions about what they actually, how they actually spend their day. You know, as a creative, if you're trying then to get them to approve something or pay attention to you, you will understand better the totality of what they're dealing with, and so therefore how to kind of actually interact with them. So you can actually learn things that help you with your active listening and ultimately help you with your business, if you listen to subjects that you think are deathly boring. Because, you know, there are, there's some, there's some things you're just like, (grunt). But it's amazing what you can actually learn. You never know, you never know, right? And it's always good to respect the person that you have in front, you know. This is, anyway, their way to ... Isn't that ultimately what we all want, right? We all want respect, so it, you know, to the finance guy, a budget's really important. I mean, it should be really important to anybody but you know, to him, it's his job, so we should at least respect him and give him some time to present it, or, you know, or, whatever, you know, you know, whatever the subject matter is, but, you know, it's, and we should respect him for that. He does a good job at it, so we don't have to. Yeah. (laughs) But yes, respect is ultimately what it comes down to, right, because we all want respect. We all want to be trusted, and that's, you know, what ultimately comes from being a good active listener and, you know, and also being a great communicator, so. What did the two of you learn, or what were your ... I can go next, it was similar to what we're speaking of here, but, for myself, I think that I'm always, there's a time crunch in my day, so there's the constant to do list, and so there's, I do think that I get a little impatient and I, I want to stick to this to do list that I have and I want to stick to what's next, check this off, and it's getting out of that zone, and I, again, I love the idea of having a different space when somebody needs to talk and then moving, physically moving to that other space to be able to dedicate the time and energy needed, and be able to stop the to do list and then pick up where you left off after. Do you work in an office or do you work from home? I have a small studio, so I work, I work, I work by myself and I have an assistant twice a week, so. But it's, you know, phone calls, emails. Neighbors stopping by, so. Yes, yes, it's always that, you know, there's the constant interruptions, right? Yeah, being able to manage that. Right, and then your to do list becomes, then, this bigger thing, because you don't feel like you're actually being able to check anything off of it. Yeah, exactly, yeah. Right? The to do list is a tricky one, because it is what keeps us on track, right, it's like having a, you know, a project calendar. And, you know, a project timeline, because you know when your deadlines are and it keeps us on track, but sometimes it can become the be all and end all, right? And then we forget to kind of just, again, that's where you ... need to, you know, if, like, you know ... It's that classic skill of being able to compartmentalize, right? And when somebody comes in and wants to talk or the phone rings and it's a client, you have to be able to compartmentalize and put, as I tell my niece in Scotland, if you put, you put the to do list in that box and you close the box, and then you open the other box which is kind of like the box that you need to listen to, to the person that's come in or to, you know, or to be heard yourself, so. That's a good one, the to do list is, is a good one. So I have a lot of social anxiety, so if it's somebody new I'm meeting, I'm thinking about, being self-conscious, so then I'm thinking, okay, I can kind of listen, maybe 70%, that 30% I'm, I'm thinking, oh, what can I say that's gonna be, that's gonna show that I'm really listening, or something, it's like ... Right, right. That's great. Yeah, anxiety, right? It's like, it's what happens when you get, you know, stagefright, stage jitters as well. I mean, when I walked out here first this morning, I'm not, wasn't really thinking about what, what am I actually going to say, because I'm trying to control, you know, the anxiety that we all get as we, you know, when we stand up to speak, and it's a natural thing, so, there's a great class on that, actually, on CreativeLive. This great woman that has this, I can't remember her name, but I'm sure Laura will tell me. But she does this thing where she literally counts backwards from five, to basically be able to control her anxiety, recognize it's there, but then be able to get beyond it, so that she can actually listen. So she has this thing called Five Four Three Two One, you just, like, count backwards. In your head, obviously, but, and it's really good. Because, you know, social anxiety is, is a real, is a real problem, right? I mean it's like, you know, and it, and it takes, it takes time for you, more, longer for you to get over that and get to know somebody, right, because of that. So, in there, the anxiety, it's just, start asking open-ended questions, right? That's what I do. Yeah, that's what you do. Right, you know, I mean, I'm sure you know how to deal with it better than I would know how to deal with it, you know, because it's, because you're dealing with it, but yeah, it's open-ended questions, right, and making sure that the person doesn't get too personal too quickly, right? (laughing) Which people do these days. I mean, I don't know about you, but work conversations all of a sudden, you're, I mean like, how did this happen, right? So, but that's part of that whole blending of work and life which happens to us a lot if we're working for ourselves as well, too, so. Those were good, did you have any others? Those were great, those were great, so yeah, well done. I think that the to do list, it's really a problem. And in our life especially, with all these media devices, so we are 24 hours on, because we get emails and this seems so important at midnight and 5:00 AM, we can, it's so hard to switch off, it's so hard. It is really hard to switch off, yeah, we really are constantly, like, on, I mean, we are like our own television network, 24/seven, right? 24/seven, seven days a week, our social media network, and it's like we're constant, it's constant pressure as well to be up to date, to know what's happening the instant it happens, and, we're tiring out our brains. I mean, you know, we're turning them into machines and that's, like, we're losing that, that humanity of just being able to connect with a subject and explore that subject and live in it for a while, you know, which we're all really good at doing when we're being creative, but not very good at then translating that into the rest of our lives, so.

Class Description

When we talk about good communication skills, we usually focus on how we speak—our tone, stance, confidence, and ability to effectively convey our message. But communication is a two-way street. Just as important is our ability to listen.

Listening, as opposed to simply hearing, is active not passive. Active listening requires concentrating on what’s being said, giving our full attention to the speaker and providing visual cues that we are truly understanding. Active listening is one of the most powerful skills for building deeper, more productive connections.

In the digital age, when many of us spend more time in front of a screen than face to face with others, it’s more important than ever to understand the fine art of listening.

Gaynor Strachan Chun, renowned marketer, speaker and thought leader, will address the barriers to and benefits of active listening, and help you develop a skill that will bring more trust and respect to your business and personal relationships.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Avoid being misunderstood, misconstrued and on “the ladder of inference.”
  • Overcome the barriers to being an active listener.
  • Use visual cues such as nodding and smiling to demonstrate listening.
  • Respond to your interlocutor with eye contact and nonverbal sounds.
  • Focus fully on the what’s being said and not get distracted.
  • Have the right posture to convey active listening.