Listening 101: Skill # 1 of 8 - Eye Contact

Listening… it’s easy right?  You just open your ears!  Well, not so fast.  Some use the word “listen” when they really mean “obey”.   Some think being quiet and listening are the same thing to.  They are not.  So what is “Listening”?  One of my favorite definitions is “the practice by which you are consciously processing auditory stimuli that have been perceived through hearing.”  Key words here:  Practice, Conscious, and Perceived.    
I’ve heard it said that “Listening is a practice, that requires practice”.  I used to think I was a good listener and now I laugh at my former self and my non-listening skills.  Yes, to listen properly it requires skills!  And if this was not emulated to you as a child then you probably did not learn them.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a class “Listening 101” and who would be brave enough to sign up for it because who wants to admit they don’t know how to listen?  There are plenty of books/classes on the subject, but I will give you some of the skills I’ve have found helpful.  The first I will share here and then in later posts share the others.

Skill # 1 - Make Eye Contact

I’ve heard some children scream at their parents “Listen with your eyes!”  I cannot stress the importance enough of this one, which is why it is listed first.  Nothing says more than “I’m listening”, “You are important”, "What you say matters", and/or even simply "You exist"  than someone’s face turned toward you.  To paraphrase from the book “The Wisdom of Listening”, a British Psychoanalyst D.W.Winnicott stated the parent’s face in an infants early years acts as a mirror for the tiny new person.  If the parent does not mirror back the infant’s expressions, the child will not receive validation of it’s existence”.  The Infant believes it is not seen and therefore does not exist.  

Besides screaming when you're mad at someone, what is one of the things you do?  One option is you ignore them or pretend they do not exist.  You are either so angry you cannot deal with them or you are so mad and you want them to know it.  They try to speak but you don't look at them or acknowledge them in any way, like they are a chair or other inanimate object.  And when someone does that to you, don't you feel like an inanimate object or like you don't exist or what you say doesn't matter?

And now for a personal story ….

I had just switched jobs to another company.  My new boss was very much known for her passion, dedication, and tenacity.  Some people called her “bitchy” but she wore that like a badge of honor.  Thankfully she was never that way with me.  Anyway, one day I saw one of my team mates crying and overheard her sobbing into the phone “My boss never listens to me!” 

I knew I was one of the very few people my boss actually liked and so I went to her desk and said “Can I talk to you?” 

Without taking her eyes off her computer typing furiously, she mumbled her approval, “Mmm-hmmm”.

I continued, “If this is a bad time, I can come back?”
Again without her taking her eyes of her computer typing with fingers of fire, she said, “No this is fine.  Go ahead.”
 It was a risk but I said, “Then can you please stop typing and look at me so I know you are paying attention?”

She stopped abruptly and looked at me like I had just slapped her in the face.  I quickly chimed in, “I do not mean any offense, because I know you hear me.  But I need to tell you that your communication style is upsetting our other team members.”

Had anyone else said this to her, she would have exploded.  But she didn’t.  She swung her chair towards to face me and stared at me intently.  As if waiting for the Cobra to strike, I treaded very gently.  I went on to explain that at my previous job, my body language was offending everyone near me.  I told her what I had learned in my Communications Class and how helpful I found it.  It was as if no one had ever told her of such things before.  And I thought, maybe like me, no one ever did until now?  

From that day on, things went much better.  No matter who came to her desk she always stopped typing and turned to face the person, gave facial cues she was listening, and always waited until they were done before she responded back.  If there was a moment she couldn’t talk she would say, “I’m sorry, this is a bad time.  Give me 5 minutes.”

Of course I took a huge risk.  That could have easily been my last day on the job had she not been so open.  But as God’s good Grace would have it, I wasn’t fired!

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1 comment:

  1. There's nothing more annoying then when you are talking to someone and you know they are only half listening to you and it happens to everyone in many different settings and situations. I totally agree eye contact is #1. V.