Listening in Order to Influence

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Listening in Order to Influence

While you may be aware that listening is an important part of communication; believe it or not, being able to focus full attention on listening is extremely difficult and takes a lot of practice.

Allow me to bore you for a second with the science of listening.
Our auditory system has evolved into an alarm system in the brain, to warn us when there is a threat nearby. Hearing is automatic, with the temporal lobe engaged, picking up patterns in sound waves and processing it into language. However, sudden noises will instantly grab our attention – as the startle response in our brains prepares us for threat or danger.

Our hearing takes two forms; top down and bottom up. Bottom up hearing is when we hear something intrusive that directs our attention. One example is hearing your name from the other side of the room, or hearing someone pop a balloon really loudly. Top down hearing, on the other hand, is when we make a conscious decision to pay something our full attention.

Top down hearing engages the frontal lobe, which monitors speech, makes judgements and helps to create meaning. When we start to connect with the deeper meaning of the conversation, our limbic system is activated. This allows a deeper level of attention, so we begin to take notice of emotional content, body language and tone of voice. Top down hearing/attention helps us to connect the emotional experiences of others with our own memories, giving us a more personal way of communicating.

However, this type of attention is very difficult. I will be the first to admit that I find listening in this way extremely challenging. It’s hard to ignore the distractions. As I write this I can clearly hear the French music playing behind me, conversations of groups of friends and families, the sound of receipts printing and coffee making. I can even (unusually) hear the sound of a cat meowing. My auditory attention isn’t being pulled by anything in particular, but the distractions are dragging my focus away from writing and it’s taking just that bit longer than it needs to.

It is difficult to give your full attention to a conversation – there are so many distractions in the modern world (mobile phones in particular) making listening just that bit harder. However it is possible and it is important.

A lot of people, myself included, think that we can multitask with our listening, or half listen to something while completing other tasks. Have you ever tried to hold a conversation with someone while texting on your phone? It’s impossible! Our brains just don’t work like that. It takes a while to refocus after a distraction, and if you are surrounded by them your brain really is going to struggle with it.

Task One
Try this…
The next time you talk to a friend, maintain eye contact with them. Focus on the words being said. You can even watch their lips in order to fully take in what they are saying. You will notice a more positive reaction from them as they realise you are fully listening to them. You may even notice a difference in yourself as a result.

Another part of listening is NOT INTERRUPTING. Again, I will admit, I am very good at interrupting people. You’re having a conversation, the topic of Paris is brought up (somewhere you’ve been on holiday), and instantly you need to insert your own anecdote. But, as I’ve already mentioned, the brain takes a while to refocus after a distraction – and your little anecdote is a huge distraction. By interrupting their train of thought, more effort is needed in order to continue the conversation. They were on a roll and you blocked it.

Don’t feel bad, we all do it. I’m not just good at interrupting, but also good at being interrupted. What’s important is that we can change it, and engage in more meaningful and influential conversations.

Task Two
In addition to task one, try to focus on what is being said. Imagine what the other person is going through. If they mention Paris, see Paris from their eyes, using what they are describing. It’s a challenge to clear your mind of all intrusive thoughts, but we don’t need to voice every single one. If you agree, simply nod. Use your body language and not your words. If you notice your train of thought moving away from the conversation, bring it back.

Listening is an important part of influencing people, and making an impression on people. In a world where networking is key, and who you know can be more important than what you know, it is an invaluable skill to have. For me, personally, giving people my full attention has improved my memory. I can now remember what is going on in my friends lives, so each conversation gets easier. This is also true of my professional life, as I can more effectively recall what I have learned about developmental psychology, and apply it throughout my work.

So I urge you to practice, to engage your limbic system, and to grow more as a human being in a world full of distractions.

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Written by: Philippa Berry

The content of this article was taken from Influence: What it really means and how to make it work for you by Jenny Nabben.
Find this book on Amazon here.

Photograph Source: Original

See also: The Importance of Listening

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