What type of listener are you – active or half-assed?

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Let me ask you this – when someone is talking to you, are you giving them your full attention, listening to their every word and nodding along to show that you understand and care about what they’re saying?
Are you hearing the words, but too busy thinking about how to respond, what you’re going to say next, and anxiously waiting for the pause where you’ll jump in with your own story of something similar that happened to you?
I’ll be the first to admit, I am guilty of the second option – to a fault.
You see, I’m a hardcore introvert. Not an “extroverted introvert” or and “introverted extrovert” or somewhere in between, but full on introvert.
Small talk makes me uncomfortable, group settings give me anxiety, and public speaking paralyzes me in fear.
I have always claimed to have a “terrible memory,” and until recently, I thought that was true. But as I am reading “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, I’ve come to the realization that it has nothing to do with memory. In fact, introverts are notorious for having a more longterm memory than extroverts.
The problem isn’t my memory, it’s my listening. When I’m having a conversation with someone, I’m almost always trying to brainstorm what to say next, because I’m afraid that if I don’t then I won’t have any response at all.
As a result, they get my half-assed attention, that goes in one ear and out the other, and I’m never able to fully engage in a conversation because in reality, it’s completely one-sided.
When I do muster up a response, it’s usually just a way for me to bounce the ball back into their side of the court so that I’m off the hook.
I’m so busy trying to think of how to make that happen, that I don’t actually listen to anything they say, and can’t remember anything they said later on.
Introverts get very overwhelmed by everything going on around them, especially in new and/or social settings.
That’s a major reason I never remember people’s names. I’m so overstimulated by the environment, that I go into full on autopilot when I meet new people. Say hi, shake their hand, tell them my name. Repeat.
I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t even hear their name when they say it. There’s too much going on around me. Too much new stuff to process. And more importantly, what am I going to say? Because at one point or another, I’m going to have to speak to someone here, right?
Then I feel guilty later when they keep referring to me by name and I have absolutely no idea what theirs is. So I try to listen for someone else around us to namedrop them, or (my favorite method) tell them to add me on Facebook so that I can see their name and put it to their face. Makes it much easier to remember!
This is my biggest area of improvement, to pay better attention.
And I decided that it was worth writing about for two reasons:
  1. So that all the other introverts out there guilty of half-assed listening know it’s not just them, and can call themselves out on it.
  2. To hold myself accountable and publicly declare that this is something I’m working on to become the best possible version of myself, and encourage anyone who identifies with the first reason ^ to do the same.
So what are we going to do about it?

Here are some action steps to pay better attention:

  • When meeting new people, listen to their name, repeat it out loud for clarification, and then repeat it over and over in your head until you get a chance to discreetly jot it down in your phone.
    • Just focus on getting the pronunciation of it right to refer back to.
    • Even if you’re not sure you heard it right – shit, did she say Kristen or Tristan? – It’s a lot less embarrassing to clarify later when you’re at least on the right track.
  •  When people are talking, give them your full attention. Obviously easier said than done, or else I wouldn’t be writing this.
    • They key is self-awareness. Catching ourselves in the act of half-assed listening and only thinking about ourselves. Whenever you notice yourself trying to brainstorm what you’re going to say next, force yourself to turn your attention back to the person speaking.
    • Don’t focus on how you can contribute to the conversation or how you’re going to respond, just focus on their words and understanding what they’re saying. If you don’t follow, ask for clarification – this will show that you care about what they’re saying and want to fully understand where they’re coming from.
    • Rumor has it, you’ll actually be able to naturally give a more compassionate and valuable response without having to overthink it. Not to mention you’ll remember the conversation later on, and can really show the person you care by following up with them about it.
  • Let yourself of the hook. You may be worried that you’re going to be sitting silently on the sidelines of a conversation if you aren’t actively brainstorming things to say and stories to tell, but let’s be honest…you’re probably going to be so busy brainstorming that you’re just going to sit there in silence anyway and miss the whole conversation.
    • If you’ve just arrived in a social situation and anxiously staring at all the new people wondering who will be the first dreadfully awkward conversation of the night…Stop. Turn your attention to something else. Soak in the atmosphere, admire the decor, notice the different fashion choices, feel the music…you’ll come off as a lot less awkward if you seem completely content in your own world rather than anxiously awaiting for someone to strike up a conversation with you.
    • And when they do, you’ll be in less of a panic about it. If they ask you a question, respond naturally without putting too much pressure on yourself to say more. Don’t force it. If all that comes to mind is a one word answer, tell yourself it’s ok. If there’s a group conversation going on and you don’t naturally feel like speaking up (I rarely do in group settings), tell yourself it’s ok to just be a listener, and absorb the conversation. You may be able to have a much more meaningful conversation about it with someone from the group later on.
OK – that’s my quick brainstorm sesh to start improving communication skills. Your turn – what other tips and action steps can we take to pay better attention with our listening and be more empathetic in our responses? Leave a comment below. 
Bre Fowler

Hi, I'm Bre - the founder of The Positive Change Co! In early 2015, I left my familiar life in Seattle, WA behind to travel the world and become a digital nomad. Traveling as a LIFESTYLE completely transformed me. It was during my first big trip abroad in SE Asia and Australia that I found my passion for healthy living, addiction for personal growth, and a profound sense of purpose in the world. The Positive Change Co. is about more than just eating healthy and taking care of your body, it's about becoming the best possible version of yourself so that you can offer your best self to others and live a more meaningful life.

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