Overcoming Fake Talk

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Why Don’t Others Listen to You?

Nine Tips for Improving Others Willingness to Listen to You

I had been on the road all week and I was eager to hang out with my family on Saturday morning. I came downstairs to find them watching cartoons. In a somewhat animated and enthusiastic voice I exclaimed, “Hey, let’s go outside and hit the ball around! What do you say?”

My young son looked up at me and said, “Please Dad, don’t yell at us.”

Realizing in that moment that my children had been socialized by their mother who is much more reserved than myself, I quietly whispered almost inaudibly, “Would anyone like to go outside and play some ball?” Immediately their ears perked up, someone turned off the TV, and someone led the charge outside with a “Let’s go!”

I learned two things that day that have repeatedly been verified. First, sometimes softer is better, and second, there is a huge segment of the population that interprets passion and enthusiasm as aggression or anger. Consequently, we would do well to temper our volume and our feelings when speaking with others.

Because it is important for people to listen to you, we should identify a number of behaviors that prevent people from listening to you. We ought to consciously become more aware and observe ourselves while eliminating some of these tactics from our conversations in order to have their full attention:

1.     Using a lot of words to describe an issue. Sometimes we are wordy and just not as concise as we could be. If people cannot get to the heart of the matter, then they become distracted and quit listening.   

2.     Processing or formulating our ideas out loud. Some people are verbal thinkers, meaning they process ideas and concepts out loud, so they may ramble or follow numerous trains of thought. This leaves the listener thinking “what in heaven’s name are they talking about.”

3.     Not listening and attending to others. It becomes obviously apparent when people feel like they are talking to themselves when they are talking to you. If there is no attempt at connection on your part, others don’t usually return the favor.

4.     Telling the same story over and over again. People become weary of others who always seem to have an ax to grind and are constantly telling the same story or a variation of the same story that includes recent updates over and over again.

5.     Overreacting with a high degree of emotional intensity. Some people are superb at creating an endless stream of drama. Often an individual’s emotional outburst occurs because of some negative interpretation or judgment that is formulated from the actions of others. People’s emotions say volumes about them.   

6.     Occupying all of the air time. Many people may not even notice when they are doing this, but it is very annoying to be with someone who is doing all of the talking and never allows anyone else to contribute to the conversation.

7.     Not being able to sincerely empathize and understand another’s view point. If you are listening to others and constantly offering judgments, evaluations, or advice, people end up thinking that you are more interested in talking about yourself than in hearing what they have to say. 

8.     Offering constant negativity or criticism of others. Usually people think if a person will talk negatively or critically about someone else, that same person would probably talk negatively about them when you are not around. Negativity pushes people away and causes them to shut down.

9.     Always talking about yourself. This is akin to occupying all of the time in a conversation. Someone who is always talking about themselves comes across as a self-centered bore. Such behavior causes people to quit listening as soon as you open your mouth.

You probably have a few you could add; however, you’ll notice many of these behaviors signal a lack of awareness on the part of the individual. Any of these behaviors create disconnection and an unwillingness on the part of others to listen to what you have to say.

So how do you increase the chance that anyone will listen to you? Here are some tips that you might find useful: 

1.     Be precise. Think about an important point you want to make and deliver your message precisely. Be prepared with the facts or supporting details if you are asked for them, but don’t provide long, logical explanations upfront. Hit them with the point and wait for their queries.

2.     Ask questions. Asking questions is always a good idea because it allows you to control the conversation. However, when dealing with people who process out loud, it is important to ask questions to help clarify your understanding as well as focus their ideas. Also, verbal thinkers often think that they have said something when in fact they just thought it. If you will ask questions to make sure you have understood, you will help them recognize what they have said and what you thought you understood.

3.     Give your attention. Make eye contact with the person who is speaking and ask questions to understand and show interest in what they are saying. Giving someone your undivided attention helps others to do the same to you.

4.     Ask, “What do you like me to do?” Sometimes the reason people tell the same story over and over is because they want to be acknowledged or they need to know that they have been heard. Sometimes when a person engages in this behavior, it is because they want to be validated. That’s fine.  Remember that we usually behave in ways for which we determine there is some benefit. Otherwise, they would not engage in said behavior.

Sometimes this quest for acknowledgment is based on the lack of awareness that others have understood. I once worked with an executive who struggled to identify if he had been understood. He gave me permission to say, “Got it,” when I attended any of his meetings. Sometimes while sitting in his team meetings, I would say, “Got it” when he began to repeat himself. Often he would stop himself and ask “Really?” to which others would respond in the affirmative. It took him a while to become more self-aware. But when he did, his communication dramatically improved. Please note, that this individual was the exception rather than the norm. Calling out an individual’s behavior without permission or in a caustic or accusatory tone is highly offensive. I only mention this story to illustrate that people can be well intended and still develop some conversational skill.

5.     Monitor your feelings. Emotional outbursts are usually preceded by a thought. If you easily become emotional, you need to spend some time identifying what sets you off and learn ways to defuse your reaction.

6.     Notice the dynamics. Observe and ask yourself, “Do I invite others to contribute to a conversation?” If you notice that others are not participating in a dialogue, then invite them to add their perspective and listen to what they have to say. Notice whether you are doing all of the talking and whether others are talking or not. If not, take steps to invite them into the conversation. People who are often introverted struggle to speak up if they feel uncomfortable. Even if they won’t engage, continue to invite them to participate. Over time they will come to feel safer about contributing to the conversation.

7.     Empathize with others. This is easier said than done if you have never received any training in empathy. You might try asking yourself: “What would I think and feel if I found myself in this situation?” Remember that everyone is rational from their perspective. Thinking about others’ thoughts and feelings as a way to understand their behavior will help you understand and begin to relate to the person. And of course, you may need to recognize that your attempts to guess at their thinking and feeling will never compensate for asking the person what is really going on with them.

8.     Be positive. Watch what is coming out of your mouth—volume and tone. Look for opportunities to express appreciation, offer sincere and specific compliments, and recognize superior effort and performance. Such behavior speaks volumes about your consideration for others.

9.     Create engagement. Ask others to share their ideas, experience, and opinions about issues or challenges that you may be having. Then when you give your full attention to their comments, it might surprise you what you might learn.

You want to increase others’ willingness to listen to you by incorporating the Law of Reciprocity into your interactions with others. This law simply stated is, “That which you freely give to others, they will return to you magnified beyond what you could have expected.” If you make a sincere attempt to listen to others, you will soon find that they will listen to you

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Eight Suggestions for Improving Your Listening Skills

Late one evening after all the children had gone to bed, I was sitting in the kitchen eating a wonderful piece of chocolate cake and thumbing through the latest L.L. Bean catalogue. My wife approached and asked if I had a moment to listen to her. “Sure, go ahead!” I responded. I continued to eat, look at the catalogue, and listen to her concerns. Suddenly she launched, “You’re not even listening to me!”

“Sure I am!” I responded.

“Prove it!” she retorted.

I repeated back to her everything she had said for at least five minutes. Not a good idea!

In frustration and exasperation, she blasted me as she exited the room, “You just don’t get it! I can handle the cake, but not the magazine!”

At that time, she was right. I didn’t get it. I thought that hearing someone was listening. Little did I understand how important it is to give someone our full attention. We can listen to the sounds of someone’s voice and still not hear them, just as we can be in their presence and still not be present with them. Often effective listening is called, “active” listening. Such listening requires you to do something other than just hearing the words that a person uses. Most of our poor listening results from what I call “interference.” Sometimes interference is caused by our behavior and our thinking. At other times, others’ actions create the interference that makes it difficult to focus and understand what others are really saying.

How Interference Decreases Our Ability to Listen

In preparing my book, we identified a number of reasons that people don’t listen. Notice how many of them deal with our behavior:

1.     You are preoccupied with a pressing challenge or issue. You invite a person to share with you, but your behavior really communicates that you are not there.

2.     You have your own agenda that forms the foundation or perspective from which you listen.

3.     You listen from the perspective of evaluation. You are more interested in hearing whether the person agrees with you or not.

4.     Perhaps you listen from the perspective of giving advice. You listen to a challenge solely from the perspective of what a person should do. This is listening with the intent of being able to play the role of “Mr. or Ms. Fix-it” when the person finishes sharing.

5.     You think you know what they are going to say, so you just tune out or worst yet, you interrupt them or finish their sentences.

6.     You are still thinking about what the person said two minutes ago, so you are not listening to them in the moment. Unfortunately, you become lost in the conversation and you miss pieces of information that may be important to hear.

7.      You are thinking about what you should say next, which also means that you are missing the message in the moment.

8.     You pay more attention to your own “head speak” than to what the person is actually saying. (“Head speak” is that little voice in your head that is always editorializing, analyzing, or criticizing what the other person is saying or doing.) In the moment you find yourself in your own thoughts, you know you have missed part of the person’s message.

9.     You may simply be impatient. Impatience may be a matter of personal style. If you are the type of person who just wants to get to the point and your speaker is rambling on forever, you may find it difficult to hang in there and be totally present. Sometimes a personal pressing problem or challenge can contribute to our lack of patience.

10.  You may lack the discipline to stay focused to listen to another person. Being able to totally recognize and suspend your thinking in order to listen fully to another person requires practice and discipline. If you have never practiced giving your full attention to another, you may find it difficult to do.

How Can You Increase Your Listening Skill?

 First, know that listening and attending is a skill that can be learned and improved upon if you will practice. Here are some suggestions you can try and incorporate in your interactions with others:

Be aware. You have to be more aware of what you are doing when you are listening to others. If you find your thoughts wandering, you need to immediately refocus on the person and what they are saying. Increasing your awareness of the person will help you to notice all of the messages that they are sending that you might not have noticed before.

Manage your time. Listening to what others have to say takes time. If you don’t have the time or if you are preoccupied with an issue, you will gain more creditability and increase respect by telling the other person what you are up against and then setting up a time when you can fully engage them and hear what they have to say. Manage your time to listen effectively.

Be present. Eliminate all outside distractions. Turn off the phone, shut down the email, tell your assistant you don’t want to be interrupted, or schedule a particular time to talk with a person and don’t let anything violate that space. If you can be fully present with the person, they will walk away feeling like they are really as important as they should be.

Observe and mirror nonverbal behavior. Mirroring is not mimicking or parroting their behavior. When you gently mirror what people are doing nonverbally you are managing their brain’s tendency to protect them. When you display similar nonverbal behavior, their brain will tell them, “Hey they are just like us. No need to be afraid. They are on our side.”

Ask questions. Of course if a person rolls their eyes, don’t mirror that behavior. Ask a question to try and understand the meaning behind the behavior. For example, you might ask, “Did you disagree with something that I just said? Please tell me if you have concerns.” Asking questions about stories they may tell you will also help you to gain a more complete or in-depth understanding of what is going on with them.

Notice their words. If you listen to their choice of words in describing a certain event, you will start to gain some understanding of what is going on with them. Asking questions about what words you are hearing them use will help you gain more information about what you are hearing and noticing.

Hear their tone. Tone is the music of the mind. Tone is the emotion that is filling a person up and flowing out of them. Sometimes the tone will tell you more about what is going on with a person than the words they use. Also, note that a person’s nonverbal behavior will align with their tone.

Assess their presence. Presence is a reflection of what is going on in a person’s head. It can also be a particular mindset. For example, if someone is frustrated by a situation or a person, everything they say and do will be reflected from their presence in frustration. Being able to notice behavior, words, and tone will give you some idea of where they are coming from.

Use clarifying or summarizing questions. Anytime you want to check your understanding, summarize or clarify what you think you have heard. Don’t be surprised if what you thought is incomplete or inaccurate. That’s just the nature of the way we think.

You could probably write your own book about improving your listening skills. What is important is that you begin to recognize when you are not listening and to do something about the situation. On one level, being a good listener requires that we suspend our subjectivity and practice objectivity in our attempt to understand others. Really understanding others creates connections and improves our relationships and our results.  

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How Do You Strengthen Your Presence?

I was recently asked to write a piece for a magazine on developing presence. Because of the short deadline, I was disappointed that I had to decline the opportunity. However I believe this to be an important topic for not only leaders but also anyone who works with people to carefully consider because it impacts the influence and positive effect you can have on others. With more time to reflect on the topic, I couldn’t help myself.

I would define “presence” to be the vibe, energy, frequency, or power that emanates from us. When I think of presence, I think of my friend, Todd Christensen. I had the opportunity many years ago to work with him on a community project and came to know the person outside the image that others had of him. I must admit that at the beginning of our relationship, I was a bit intimidated. However, looking back today, I would identify him as a man with presence that I would want to emulate.

For those of you who don’t know Todd, let me tell you a bit about him. He was a five-time Pro Bowler who played tight end for the Oakland Raiders for 10 years. He played in two Super Bowls and after his retirement was a sports broadcaster for NBC, ESPN, and CBS Sports. He was often referred to as the “Renaissance Man” because of his prolific vocabulary. He was well read in a number of fields, could quote any number of well-known poets and authors, and had one of the most beautiful baritone voices I had ever heard. Despite being a person of renown, he was always respectful, gracious, and interested in others. He was supportive, encouraging, honest, and as unpretentious an individual as I have ever met. Indeed, if you didn’t know who he was, you would never hear about any of his achievements from him.  

Because of his example, I hope what I offer might help you to think about and improve your presence with those with whom you work and associate.

1.     Care for people. You might ask yourself if you really care about the people in your life. It has been said that we really don’t understand others until we have walked a mile in their shoes. Because of our harried existence, I have found that we don’t often take a moment or two to learn about those with whom we work. Sometimes during training, I provide participants with an opportunity to get to know one another on a more personal basis. Sometimes when I call “time” on an activity people will “boo” me. When I have asked why the boos, I typically hear, “I’ve worked with him forever and never knew this!” When you take the time to show you care about people, they know it, and they will respond in kind to you and those around them.

2.     Ask questions and listen. Asking and listening to others requires that we be totally present with them in the moment. Being present is not something that you can pretend and hope it works. When I become frustrated with a person at work, I always try to remember that from their perspective they are rational. Remembering that inspires me to ask questions, listen, and be totally present in order to understand their point of view. 

3.     Celebrate yourself. It is difficult to celebrate others if you can’t celebrate something about yourself. You have come to the point where you are because of something you have done. Take a minute to identify what you do well and the skills and capability that make you a distinct and unique individual. Indeed you should find joy in your abilities and celebrate your successes. When you are confident in your ability, your confidence will lead others to trust and have confidence in you. Remember that confidence is not arrogance.  

4.     Lead by example. Identifying some specific character traits or qualities that you would like to develop can help you to enhance the presence you desire to project. Identify the traits you most admire, make a specific plan for their development in your life, and demonstrate and apply those traits. You will become what you consistently do, and others will emulate the example that you set. Developing those traits to which you aspire will change your life and those with whom you associate.

5.     Express appreciation. I once had a woman who had worked for a major telecommunications company tell me that in the 19 years she had worked there, not once had anyone ever said, “Thank you.” We need to take notice of the things that people do for us and go out of our way to express our sincere appreciation for their efforts. Whether it be the janitor or the CEO, we should take the opportunity to express appreciation. People notice and care for those who notice and care for them.      

6.     Identify your intent. When I speak to large audiences, I often think about the type of audience that I am speaking to and identify a role and an emotion that I want to portray. For example, I might decide that I want to be a motivator with one group and that I want to project enthusiasm as an emotion. I will then approach that group with the idea of being an “enthusiastic motivator” in mind when speaking to them. I have found this to be like putting in the software that will run the program. Be clear about the energy you want exude. This will increase the likelihood of achieving the presence you want.    

7.     Become more self-aware. You might ask yourself, “What’s it like to be around me?” If you don’t know, start to take note of how others respond to you. Do people go out of their way to include you, ask for your support, or solicit your ideas? Do they easily hold the difficult conversation with you? What emotion do you most frequently portray? Remember that positive emotions, words, and behaviors attract others to you; whereas, “negatives” of any kind usually repel or push others away. 

8.     Be resilient. Don’t give up. Keep working at what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes we think that something like presence is something that some have and others don’t. People who demonstrate specific abilities and strengths have developed those abilities by working hard and continuing to press forward until they achieve their desired goals.

9.     Be true. This is the hardest of all to do because it is so personal in nature. Only you can decide what being “true” means. I really believe in Aristotle’s notion that to be a good speaker you had to be a good person. Being true is more than being authentic. Perhaps it deals with how willing we sincerely put the wellbeing of others before ourselves. If you really want to increase the power of your presence as an individual, a leader or a manager, then you must examine the singleness of your intent and the desires of your heart in how you live your life. Life elevated causes us to resonate at a much higher frequency that resonates with others.  

Every one of us has experienced a person that portrays a powerful, positive presence, whether it be a leader, a friend, a mother, a father, a teacher, a business associate, or a recent acquaintance.  What is important is the decision to become the person that we desire to become and take deliberate steps toward that journey of becoming. After all, it could be said that our presence is the essence of who you really are. Only you can decide that for yourself. That’s what Todd Christensen did.     

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