16 Jul 2008

Listening by Choice

Posted by paulandrew

Choose consciously

One of the most common concerns that I hear about listening has to do with people who talk “endlessly.” The other day somebody said, “My mother calls me and wants me to listen to her for hours. Sometimes I just can’t handle it and so I put the phone down. She doesn’t stop talking unless I interrupt.”

And this brings up a great point – what role does the speaker play in Supportive Listening? To me, good Supportive Listening is about balanced connection. It’s true: it really does take two to tango. Thus as a listener it’s up to me to decide if the connection isn’t to my liking, and to take action.

Here is an example. It is thought provoking, whether or not you would have handled it this way.

I’m at a networking event and I join a small group of people. There’s a lady who is talking about herself and her achievements. She’s a good talker, and so it’s engaging for a few minutes, but after a while it doesn’t feel right. It feels like she just wants an audience, rather than really being interested in a two-way connection. She doesn’t ask other people questions, and when others talk, she steers the conversation back to herself.

Being ever the optimist, I ask her a question about her experiences in college, with the intent of inviting her to connect at a more personal level. She goes on to list her accomplishments as an alumni, and and to stress how much the school needs her help.

When my attention starts to wander, and I think of walking away, she somehow focuses on me more and tries to draw me back in. The thought crosses my mind that I’m not here listening by choice – I feel trapped.

Now consider here:

  • Have you ever been in this situation?
  • Are you obliged to stay?
  • What would you do?

Back to the story: I have an epiphany – it occurs to me that I am no longer able to be a good listener in this situation. And that it’s time for me to get out. I decide to go check out the band that is playing, and I excuse myself to do that. Sure enough, she can’t let me go without making a comment on how I’m bailing. Frankly I’ve had enough.

As a smart, responsible listener it is important for me to look out for my own needs as well. And a big part of that means listening by choice.

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