How often have you uttered the phrase “How are you?” without even bothering to wait for the recipient of the question to respond?
The receiver could say, “I just won the lottery!” or “Well, my wife left me, I lost my job, I’m getting evicted from my home and the dog died!” and it’s all the same to you because you’re already on the way out.
You just nod and murmur, “That’s nice,” and carry on.
As unintended as it might be, the message is clear, isn’t it?
Think about what it feels like when you’re the victim of a non-listener. It’s rather disconcerting when you’re trying to converse with someone who never lets you finish your sentences or whose eyes seem to be constantly darting around looking for someone else to show up. You just want to throw your hands up and walk away. What’s the point even trying to communicate or connect on any level?
We simply don’t invest enough of ourselves and our precious time in actual conversation.
We may spend plenty of time formulating what we want to say. But do we invest the same amount of time listening to what’s important to the other half of the supposed give-and-take interaction?
Listening is a lot harder than most of us admit. There’s tons of competition for our limited attention spans. So much distracts us and it’s incredibly easy to fall into the habit of talking to yourself – even accidentally.
However, listening is essential to good communication and eye contact is a great indicator of focus.
Yes, I know that some of you can text, chew gum and walk at the same time. But ensuring that other people feel they have your attention requires you to actually look at them. If you’re glancing around, checking your watch or phone, or craning your neck to see the TV, chances are the person speaking will feel ignored or dismissed. This is not an optimal state for great communication and will undermine all your efforts at making a memorable connection.
Whether you meant to or not, yawning, scratching, heaving sighs, continually scanning the room and dozing off all broadcast this message: “I have absolutely no interest in what you have to say.”
Is this the message you were hoping to deliver?
The first moments of an interaction are your window of opportunity for connection. If you earn your listener’s interest during those initial moments, they will be more likely to engage positively with you further. If you fail to add some sort of value in that golden window, they’re less likely to listen to what you say, let alone remember you after the initial exchange.
It may be tough to do in some instances, but let the other person finish what he or she is saying instead of jumping in with your own pithy comments. Nothing says, “What you’re saying is not worthy of my exceedingly valuable time and attention,” like an interruption.
The purpose of a conversation is not to kill time but to grow a connection.
As you wait for an event or appointment and you strike up a conversation with the person next to you, how can you turn a random chat into a meaningful interaction?
When it comes to first impressions, questions matter more than answers. You don’t have to be witty or spontaneous to ask great questions, but you do have to stop moving and listen. And you have to be ready to ask real questions.
Choose your moments to connect wisely and invest a little more listening practice into that next encounter. You might be surprised at what you discover and how much more memorable it will make you in the future.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.