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Why we should all just shut the hell up

Bring yourself back to a moment you had your last longer conversation with your coworker, friend, kid or a partner. What was it about? Was it a challenging discussion, interesting change of ideas, or something else? Was the other person more in charge of the conversation, or were you? If the other person was dominant, were you still able to feel heard? Did you feel considered and understood? If you were the one doing most of the talking, then do you think the other person felt the same? Do you think you talked too much or too little? Was it a good conversation, or if you’d be able to go back, would you change something about it?


A lousy listener

Until I started learning to coach leaders, I thought I was a rather good communicator. I thought I was easy going, most likely to be the one initiating a conversation, and mostly the one keeping it going. What I also noticed is that I wasn’t able to be present. While the other person talked, I already thought what I wanted to ask next. If I was having an argument, I nearly never even really listened. I was often preparing to say something back. I wasn’t even trying, because I was emotional and constantly focused on where this is going rather than where we’re at. The thing is that to even start solving a problem with someone, you have to try to understand the other side. Doing that requires active listening, which a lot of times I wasn’t able to give.

If you also have problems with concentrating, then all of that together just means you aren’t much of a good listener. That unfortunately also indicates you’re far from being a good communicator, maybe also not much of a friend, manager or even a parent. Well, it depends, but I personally honestly felt this way. It all sounds too miserable, so I’ll balance it out with some good news. If you’re aware of the problem, you can work on it. If you work on it, you can change it. If you can change it, you’ll see the difference and it becomes a habit. Your conversations with other people will have so much more meaning and value, and most importantly — others will enjoy talking to you so much more.

A painful eye-opener

I think a massive eye-opener for me was an exercise I had to do in the coaching course. Feel free to try it out as well. If you don't gain anything from it, it’s an interesting experience, I guarantee. Our mentor asked us to go into pairs, and use 5 minutes for one person to be talking, 5 minutes for the other person to be talking. The trick was that the listener had to listen 100% of the time, being 100% present. He wasn’t allowed to ask any questions, or to react in any other way apart from nodding.

For some people, talking was difficult. They were struggling, because they didn’t get much back. They constantly waited for other person's reactions, questions. They almost needed another person’s approval to keep talking. They just wanted anything. But for some participants, these 5 minutes were a paradise. Nobody tried to interrupt their ideas, thoughts or questions. They were finally able to shine — just their perception, their knowledge, their point of views.

Few of the people were listening carefully without any effort. You saw clearly they enjoyed it, they were present and just taking it all in. And then there were people like me, who were listening, but they weren’t really there. They were thinking of questions, they were wondering about the reasons behind the other person’s story, and they put all of their effort into not saying something in between the other person’s talk. Last minute (if not more) was already spent thinking about what to cook for dinner and where I’m going to travel in the summer.

Which one of these characters are you? Maybe the character changes depending on who you talk to? The irony in that situation is that often bad listeners are consistent talkers, and good listeners are poor speakers. Now imagine if these two people are spending a lot of time at work, or share a home. One probably just dominants the crap out of everyone else, and everything that’s going on in the team or home or any relationship they have, has the face of just one person. These are the managers we all know filling an hour long 1:1-meetings with their own voice only. These are the friends who always talk about themselves rather than asking how you’ve been doing. These are the parents who keep on telling long stories about what their kids should be doing right, rather than listening what their kids would prefer to do, or believe how something should be done right. I think none of us really want to be these kinds of communicators. We just can’t help ourselves. We just can’t stay quiet.

Let’s shut up

How do we learn anything new if we can’t stop talking and won’t start listening? How do we even know what our coworkers/kids/partner think of something if we keep telling them how to think of something? Have you ever thought that speaking your own ideas and thoughts is just…Letting out the same crap that’s in your head already from day one? Listening to others would give it the opportunity to let something new in for a change. Are you willing to try to listen to someone while being 100% present? You’d push away all the other thoughts, you wouldn’t allow yourself to think of any questions or ideas while the other person is talking. You enjoy the pauses in a conversation, and you give space for the other person to think, process and then share. You won’t interrupt, you won’t step in every spare second.

If you’re a bit like me, you’re probably scared to forget your questions and ideas while the other person is talking. Maybe sometimes you even repeat those in your head while the other person is trying to share their story? Trust me, you won’t forget what’s supposed to come out. Real questions and ideas will come to you when the other side is done talking, and the question or idea you had in mind is still accurate and important. If you forget it, it wasn’t meant to be there at that time in that form. We have to learn to trust ourselves and others. If we continue to believe we’re the smartest ones in every room, then we should choose our rooms better, or just finally shut the hell up and start listening to others.

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