I make my living by coaching people, so I consider myself a “professional listener.” After over a decade of doing this work you’d think I’d be a pretty good listener, and yet I’m always trying to learn how to get better. Research shows that we typically listen an average of about 125-200 words per minute. The problem is that we think at nearly 10 times that rate – between 1000-3000 words per minute. So no matter how much I hear (with my ears) what another person is saying, it’s pretty likely that I am thinking most of that time rather than fully listening.
For example, last week I was co-facilitating a team development workshop and as someone on the team was speaking, I started thinking about how they were presenting their material and how it was being received by the rest of the team - typically good stuff. However, when they finished it was my turn to ask a few questions and debrief the exercise – but since I wasn’t fully listening, I fumbled and came up momentarily blank. Fortunately, my partner picked up right where I fumbled and we didn’t miss a beat.
It got me thinking about how to stay fully tuned in to what was, and wasn’t being said. How could I both accept that I am always thinking and remain curious enough to really be fully present with those to whom I’m listening? For the next year, I’m committed to trying something new.
I’m learning that there is a muscle between noticing when I’m present and when I’m thinking about something else – and I’m learning it by building a consistent, minduful meditation practice. That practice is all about just noticing, without making myself wrong, when I lose focus and when I come back to it. Sounds simple enough, right? Try it this week… set a timer and see just how long you can focus on one thing (meditators often use the breath to focus on) before you realize your thoughts have wondered off. I believe that over time, I can become a better listener by practicing that muscle once a day, even if only for 15-20 minutes.
I’ll check back in a few months from now and let you know if the needle has moved on the length of time I can focus and my ability to remain present. Until then, I’m on my way to kicking my practice of great listening into overdrive… care to join me? Let’s see what the side effects might be!