Sincere commitment and focused attention to hear someone out has the potential to transform relationships, both personal and professional. To accord that level of regard, you’ve got to be someone seriously comfortable in your own skin. Only those with genuinely powerful and strong personalities can pull it off convincingly. The rest can be spotted clumsily revealing their poor self-esteem, prickly egos, insecurities, self-doubts and also giving vent to their neediness in countless ways. Not surprisingly, with a spectacular lack of self-awareness.
True expression of power isn't for everyone. The most important signals can sometimes be inaudible for the clueless! Especially, when we aren't that tuned in to that part of the spectrum where real power resides!
How can we reclaim that power, listen better, and recharge our relationships?
Watch out for your Energy Projection
What is the kind of energy that you're projecting internally and to the outside world? Is it the kind that draws in people to engage with you? And then stay connected throughout the conversation, and beyond? Or is there a hint of disdain, impatience, or some thinly veiled anger or maybe even a sense of trepidation?
Getting the energy projection right is vital to prepare oneself for effective listening. We can project our energy in numerous ways: thoughts, actions, words, and of course non-verbal signals. Remember, your words can’t do the trick always, as the surround “effects” can reveal a lot more than you thought! Your gaze, your posture, the congruence between your words and gestures… Everything counts! Nobody gets mightily excited talking to someone who looks morose sometimes, at times dull, and often indifferent! We may rush into a conversation, rush through a conversation of even rush out of a conversation. It shows! Whether you realize it or not, it still shows! People are able to tap into this energy with reasonable precision. Somehow, they do get it!
The question is, do you want to be the last person to know?
So, what can you do in order to get your energy projection tuned right?
Start with your Physical Stamina:
It certainly helps to ensure your stamina levels are raised enough to get you perked up for an important discussion or meeting. You might animatedly say that you do look forward to “catching up”. You don’t quite look the part though, when you show up all groggy with puffy eyes, and yawning away to glory. Nutritious food, physical activity, expanded chest, deep breathing and proper hydration are the simplest ways to check in with the right energy, stay alert and stay mindful. As they say in Hindi “Picture Abhi Baaki Hain”!
Well begun is half-done. Let's now deal with the other half!"
Form Emotional Outcomes
How would you like to feel at the end of the conversation? What state do you want to leave the other person in, post-interaction? While answering the latter, keep in mind your objective for the relationship. Do you wish to continue with a healthy & mutually respectful relationship?
How do you wish to come across to others? As a genuine, open minded person keen to establish mutual understanding, and at the same time, knowing when and how to assert? Not in a rush to gain approval from the other person. Of course you welcome the approbation, but don't crave for it!
It is important to know what emotional outcomes you are aiming for, both for yourself and others. That serves as an important sign-post. During the chat, it is possible you may feel agitated, annoyed, or even spaced out. You may feel those familiar sensations that go with strong unpleasant emotions. Before you respond, it is a good idea to check-in with the emotional outcomes you’d signed up for. Get your words, gestures, pauses, expressions, and if possible even thoughts, aligned with this outcome.
Remember, it only takes a moment of indiscretion for the interaction to veer off-course. And nothing worthwhile gets heard thereafter!
Now that our sign-posts are marked out, time to dive into the real action.
Genuine Presence, the Skill that Matters!
How do you demonstrate presence while listening to someone? So that you can listen at all levels. Decode what is said, and what is left incomplete. Read between the lines, but not get lost in hallucinations! Maintain rapport, but also stay grounded.
Again, this is not some wooly headed concept. Let’s see how this can be done. Also, let’s not get carried away by the general feel-good/do-good-think-good tempo of this article till now.
There are good people, and then there are others too. Especially while dealing with the latter, it is certainly a good idea to get a better “understanding” of the person. You’ll get critical insights into what’s driving them… and at times, even some of those chinks in their armor! More about it later in this section.
Ask & Get to Know
An attitude of curiosity and eagerness to learn about the other person puts you in a deep listening mode almost automatically. It is a conscious choice of self-effacement you can make. And, thereafter, the coolest thing to do would be to "recede" into the background. So, for now give up that need to listen to your own voice, and listen in. This is about the other person, and for now stop acting like a narcissistic Diva! Usually, folks who are desperate for some form of acceptance are the ones wanting to draw more attention to themselves. Be aware of the subliminal messaging that you might be doing without awareness!
Wanting to know more about the person, their ideas, opinions, interests, motivations, values, beliefs, frustrations, setbacks, their journey, their victories, their learning, what makes them proud of themselves, their achievements… there’s so much to know about a person… Even if you think you know the person pretty well. People evolve over time. Get them to talk about themselves!
Acknowledge Similarities & Agreements
The quality of rapport increases when we are with "people like us". So, keep looking for things that seem to be common to you and the other person. Shared interests, ideas, concurring opinions, values, beliefs... There are so many things that may connect you to the other person. There may be many more where you differ significantly. But, for now, keep looking for things where there is agreement, it could be even inane things like "fear of flying", "love for mangoes".... Keep exploring, and as you discover more common areas, periodically make a "casual" mention about it.. "Ohh! You bet, even I hate it when kids keep yelling in the flight". Each time you do this, you're making a small but significant effort to reassure the person, that you are like them!
Of course, it is entirely possible to do exactly the opposite too. You can keep looking for areas of disagreement, and that too strong ones. And throw it at the other person to watch how far they become uncomfortable! You can spoil the rapport in no time!"
Turn OFF the "Know it Already" mode
The other important and related tip is to eschew the "Know it Already" mode. The moment the person starts making a point, we know what they're about to say. Like a clairvoyant, we even "know" what they don't want to reveal. It's time to wear that smug look to convey that "I know", "I simply know it”!
The real expression of personal power is when you do exactly the opposite. Even when you know that you know, you still manage to convince your inner self that “maybe there is a different dimension I might just discover”. So, “let me for a while at least, genuinely look for that new angle, the other variants of what I may only know partly”, for all we know!
Explore the Thinking Behind the Words:
It can indeed be liberating when an open safe-space is available to express oneself. You can do this by asking open and non-leading questions whenever possible. This will help you discover multiple dimensions and angles, and the thinking behind their words.
Sometimes, they may even surprise themselves with their responses.
Leading questions are those that are designed to elicit an almost pre-decided answer. It's as if you want to confirm your understanding/biases/assumptions, so you decided to "test" out your hypothesis. Sometimes, leading questions can make the person defensive, and even nervous.
Shhh! Here comes a secret tip!
Keep the space wide-open. There can be other benefits too. Like, you may actually get people to let their guard down, and "communicate" well. They may end up "exposing" their hidden agendas, lack of understanding, lack of sincerity, obnoxious intentions, and so much more. Pay special attention to their non-verbal expressions and the congruence with what they say.
Ask yourself a simple question: “Did he/she really mean it”? And Keep looking. The eyes convey a lot more than all that platitudinal verbiage! And when you do get a “gut instinct” that something doesn't feel quite right, expand the open-space a bit more, and investigate with that same genuine curiosity and respect!
Congratulations! You may have just saved yourself many a hassle!
Working with Differences, Hot Buttons & Triggers
There are times when differences will crop up. Maybe, they say something that clashes with your values and beliefs, or even opinions. There may be particular expressions, words, terms, concepts, ideas, opinions that make you restless, annoyed, angry, or plain uncomfortable in multiple ways.
The tempo of your responses matters now. This is a minefield, and listening usually takes the backseat from here on. But you can avoid it by doing some amount of self-regulation.
Avoid making snide expressions, making judgmental counter-points, or raising provocative questions, and exclamations. Show them your understanding, and that you 'get it’, even though you may not be in agreement.
Be aware of your trigger points and hot buttons, and train your mind to avoid getting impacted by them. Or at least park your negative feelings for now. Acknowledge them mentally to yourself, and tell your mind you’ll revisit them later. The choice is for you to exercise, and buying time is a cool idea, so your mind doesn't run away with the emotions.
Have a doubt? Keep coming back to your sign-posts, the emotional objectives and intended outcomes for the relationship. And of course, be aware of their own lack of awareness, auto-programmed patterns of speaking, listening. If we can make these mistakes, so can they!
And Watch out! Who is enjoying the conversation BTW?
So, are you thoroughly enjoying this conversation, and feeling like you're having a whale of a time? Good.
This is the right time to get some important bit of understanding sorted out. You can mentally imagine that there's a traffic light that has just turned yellow! Ask yourself this simple question: "Is the other person also enjoying this chat, as much as I do?”
If you can get into the habit of checking in and getting a "sense" of who all are enjoying your conversation, you'll do yourself a big favour. Sometimes, we are so overcome with our excitement, that we forget to notice the subtle, and at times "in-your-face" signs that point to a simple fact: "Maybe, I am the only one enjoying this conversation”.
And that's a good point in time, to go back to the start of this article again!
Tune in, Listen & Express Real Power. And Get used to it!