If you roll the gum over your tongue and manipulate the fold perfectly between your teeth and then bite down quickly, you can make a snap, snap sound and be sooo cool! That was my thinking as a gawky 14 year old and something I practiced for “coolness” until the day I sat next to someone in the movie theatre who was equally as cool as me.
As I tried to focus on the movie I found the snapping to be annoying. I looked over at the snapper prepared to give her the evil eye when the shock of her face left me paralyzed. Her mouth was hanging wide open with tongue slightly extended, jaw shifting back and forth when suddenly there was a quick snapping shut, and a pop, pop, pop. The image of a frog catching a fly mid-air or a cow chewing its cud stand out equally strong! It was in that moment that I came to learn what I looked like to others and how annoying I must have been. I never popped my gum again.
It’s funny how life and self awareness reveals to us parts of ourselves that we are otherwise blind to see. These crazy life-slapping moments that hit us smack in the face and awaken us to grow into a better person…or at least a more aware one.
A few years back I was introduced to new colleagues at work. They were trying to make sure I was comfortable in my new surroundings and started to give me the low-down on what I could expect from those in my immediate area. One of them went on, "Betty is really sweet, she’ll help anyone with anything…John, not so much… and, Marc, well he’s a one-up man". A one-up man, I questioned, what is that? You know, someone who’s done everything you talk about only bigger or better than you. Take for instance, you share you went on a great ten mile hike in the national forest over the weekend. He will respond, oh that’s a great hiking place; I did an overnight 30 miler there.
They both laughed, but it struck me like lightening. I wasn’t laughing. Was I a one-up woman? I knew that I often responded with a like situation when people shared with me. I also knew in my heart that my intent was never to one-up anyone, but to join the conversation and find a commonality between us so I could share in their experience. Had I missed the mark? Maybe I did come across as a one-upper? Maybe my attempt to share in their experience actually “took” from it?
Since that time, I have worked hard at the art of listening. I have become more aware of my dialog in conversations and I find myself more curious and engaged. It wasn’t easy at first, in fact at times I walked away feeling like I was unauthentic and trying too hard. I knew this was something I needed to learn so I read books on the art of communication and I started to make mental notes of the elements of conversation I had with people who left me feeling inspired, engaged, or understood. And, this what I learned.
Listen with the intent to learn something. True listening is setting aside oneself. You will be amazed how interesting people are. Be prepared to be amazed!
Don’t multi-task. Turn off your screens, put down your pen and focus on the other person (s). Disconnect your mind as well; you can't be making your grocery list or dreaming about your upcoming vacation and still focus on the conversation. Make the other person feel like nothing exists outside of this moment, right here, right now.
Never prepare your response while listening. If you have value to add to the conversation it will present itself when the opportunity is right. If it doesn't, it probably wasn’t worth mentioning.
Allow for the conversation to flow and grow. If they begin with a story, ask open ended questions: who, what, when, where and why. If you initiate, skip the weather and ask questions that will help you to learn the person better. Something like, what was the highlight of your weekend or what’s your perfect day going to look like today?
Never interrupt or finish a sentence for someone. Be patient and let the other person move at their pace. A pause, even a long pause doesn't mean it's your turn to talk.
Listen for tone. People use tone, pitch and volume to emphasize certain situations or to allow you a window into how something made them feel. Pay attention and let them help you to understand what is really being said.
Listen for the non-verbal. A good listener will listen with their ears and their eyes. Watch facial expressions, eye-movement and gestures, they will give almost as much information as the words.
There are also the commonly known recommendations; look them in the eye, nod to acknowledge you are listening, keep open body language, etc. While these are important, I think that if you are truly listening, these will be natural.
Remember something about the person that you find intriguing or something you noted as important to them. It will be a great follow up conversation!
As to the commonality; it is a great connector and will give you something on which to grow your relationship. Share your connection, but remember…don’t one-up them. And goodness, no matter how cool you are, don’t pop your gum!
Adler, Mortimer Jerome. How to Speak, How to Listen. New York: Macmillan, 1983. Print.
Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. New York: Penguin, 2015. Print.