How Quickly Do You Listen?

November 5, 2014


I have a good friend who loves to finish my sentences.

My pauses are just too long for her to take.

I tease her mercilessly about the habit, and, for fun, stop whatever I’m saying whenever she interjects.  When she’s guessed wrong, I pause to say…

“No – good guess.  Do you want to try again?”

She laughs and waits for me to continue.

A few minutes later, she’ll do the same thing.  I’m sure I’d find this terribly annoying if she was interrupting just to sneak in her point or to change the subject.  But that’s not the case.  This friend is a fantastic listener. She leans into the story and loves “guessing” where I’m headed.  She’s a terrific audience because I know she’s engaged in my stories.

Here is a thought experiment.

Think about who you like to talk to most.  That person is most certainly an active, engaged listener.

When someone really hears you, you get it intuitively. The subtleties lie in a listener’s follow-up questions, clarifying comments, and non-verbal cues.  

As a four-year-old, my son would repeat a question to me over and over until he HEARD me speak a response .

A nod or actually moving toward the request (“May I have honey toast?”) wouldn’t do the trick.  I had to verbally respond.

If I didn’t say something, he would pepper me with the same question over and over again until he HEARD me audibly respond. (His ability to interpret non-verbal cues hadn’t kicked in yet!)

Still, in those years, he trained me to listen quickly and respond declaratively.   If I stopped and focused on him before he had to badger me, we were both happier.

When he knew I was engaged, we could move on to more pleasant conversations.  Singular engagement is critical in communication.  Think about your behavior.

Do the people who work with you feel they have to badger you to get your attention?
Do they know that they’ve been heard?
When you’re leading people, how quickly and clearly do you focus on them?
Are their words important to you?

Think about how your listening speed impacts the people around you.

A funny thing happens when we listen to people speak.

Too often, we spend our mental energy thinking through our response rather than being in the moment.

We argue with the speaker in our heads, forming counterpoints  or arguments.  Our goal isn’t about meeting the person in their thoughts, but communicating ours.

However, the danger is if we make communication all about what WE want to say, we’re missing the foundational ingredient for leadership, collaboration, or fellowship.

Remember, the goal is to be QUICK listeners!!  If not,  we all become like a four-year-old, saying the same things over and over.

So, how quickly do you listen?  What goes on in your head when people talk?  What threatens your listening ability the most?


One Response to “How Quickly Do You Listen?”

  1. Anna Rebecca Says:

    Joy- great post! I can’t tell you how much I annoy my boyfriend (and perhaps other people) by getting distracted when he tells me a story. Or even worse, in a discussion I take too long to continue sentences or thoughts of mine, and he thinks I’m finished whereby he starts in and then I continue my thought and he gets frustrated because he thinks I’m interrupting him and I don’t care about what he has to say.

    Many times when I’m talking on the phone, I have to close my eyes to focus because I’m like some crazy person who sees something sparkle in the air and my eyes and head follows it!! I struggle with this issue everyday.

    Thanks for the guidance!


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