Did you miss the conversation?

A few years ago I was shopping at Ikea and decided to get some lunch. In the cafeteria line in front of me were a mom and her young daughter. They selected their food, sat at a table not far from me, and enjoyed their meal together.

But here’s the thing – during that entire time the mom never got off her phone. She got the food, sat down, cut up her daughter’s meatballs, and ate her lunch one-handed all while conducting a long conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line. The memory of that young girl trying unsuccessfully to get her mother’s attention still makes me want to cry. They were potentially making a memory together and mom missed it.

That experience solidified my resolve to try to be present with whatever conversation I’m in. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I try to use good listening skills whether I’m at home or at work.

In our Art of Supervision course we talk about three basic elements of listening.

  1. Stay focused. Minimize internal and external distractions, pay attention to the speaker, and use nonverbal signals to show you are listening.
  2. Capture the message. Paraphrase and restate the speaker’s key points to be sure you understand them. In work situations you may want to take notes to help with future conversations.
  3. Help the speaker communicate. Ask clarifying questions. Try to understand the feelings and perceptions behind the person’s words. Don’t worry about whether you agree with the message at this point, just try to understand it.

When I can follow these three steps, it helps me stay present. Focusing my energy on listening helps me avoid distractions such as multitasking and, I hope, prevents me from missing important conversations – even when I’m right there in the same room.

Dee Anne Bonebright

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