The Best Lesson You’ll Ever Learn: Just Listen

I dare you to spend an entire day of your life silent. TOTALLY. FREAKING. SILENT. I bet just thinking about that is making your toes curl. If you’ve never tried it – you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

I read that the average person spends about 4 hours of their day talking. That’s four hours of your day where your brain is primarily focused on the output which means that it’s not focused on the input. You are missing so much because you are trying to control the situation using your voice. Can you imagine how different your life would be if you just shut the heck up!

When I was in college, one of my professors told me that the smartest person in the room is typically the quietest. Weird – right? Being vocal seems to convey dominance, but dominance is different than intelligence. I firmly believe this to be true. Quiet folks spend their time absorbing the information, processing it, and watching how each person in the room reacts and takes in the information. They are 100% in the moment. They don’t feel the need to sway the conversation in one way or another. They are there to learn and then make decisions only after they have a good grasp on the material or the task at hand.

If you listen to a lot of people talk, they tend to talk through their thought process out loud – that’s a lot of what communication in business is. People talking out loud to solve a problem. Listeners internalize their thought process and then assert themselves by taking a firm stance based on all of the inputs.

Listening is more than just shutting your mouth. It’s also learning how to shut your mind. I don’t mean going to sleep – I wish I did – wouldn’t we all love a good nap right about now? What I mean is having enough control of your mental thoughts to turn off your inner dialogue and really focus on what you are hearing. If you are anything like me a normal meeting goes something like this:

  1. Walk into the room.
  2. Say hello to each person and introduce yourself if you don’t already know them.
  3. Notice that you really like one of the other ladies’ outfits.
  4. Find a seat.
  5. Discuss where and why you are selecting the seat and what you see out the window.
  6. Work through getting your technology set up.
  7. Make sure the conference line is dialed in.
  8. Think through the presentation and realize you might have missed a slide or see a grammar error.
  9. Welcome everyone to the meeting and give some background about why you are there.
  10. Meeting starts.
  11. Notice you get an email.
  12. Check-in with what is going on in the meeting.
  13. Notice you are hungry – check on what time it is.
  14. Take a drink of coffee, notice how good it tastes.
  15. Notice you get an email.
  16. Check back in with what is happening in the meeting.
  17. Phone buzzes – discreetly flip it over to see who texted.
  18. Check back in with what is happening in the meeting.
  19. Write down your follow-ups.
  20. Notice you got an email. Respond to said email.
  21. Meeting closes.
  22. Check the time.
  23. Say goodbye and thank everyone for coming.

Think about every second you spend in an average meeting not tuned into the materials. Think about every time you go out to eat with anyone and you are on your phone. What are you missing out on? You have to learn to turn everything off. Your mouth, your mind, your phone – all of it.

It used to be that when we said we were listening, it just meant that we weren’t talking but these days you must really learn to quiet the noise from technology, your mental to-do list, and your surroundings.

Listening might be one of the hardest skills to learn. It’s something you must practice and work at daily. Try to listen to 15 minutes of an audiobook every day and not do anything but listen. Count the number of times your mind starts to do or think about something else – you are going to be so surprised! Everything you hear is a trigger that gets you started on something else. When I started this exercise, it was too hard for me to make it through the whole 15 minutes, so I started with five. When I was able to get through five minutes of solid listening, I added another five. I can’t say that I have mastered more than 20 minutes but I’m at least conscious of when I need to pull myself back in. I have heard a lot of people say that meditation helps you develop this skill but I’m not quite there yet.

Again, I dare you to leave your phone and email behind and attend your first meeting with only your ears (and a notebook for notes of course).

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