Yes, active listening is definitely more difficult right now!
In non-pandemic times we have an endless amount of stimulus jockeying for position to capture our attention, so imagine the added stress our attention faces with all the uncertainty of the pandemic. We are all familiar with the phone vibration drawing our attention to our pocket, or hand, instead of to what a friend or family member is sharing. Even without external distractions, too often we fall victim to planning what we are going to say instead of listening to what is being said and then responding. Devin Bockrath, an Improv instructor quoted in an article on listening, sees a parallel between conversation and improv in that they both are successful with active listening and responding accordingly. In a sense viewing conservation like hitting a tennis ball back and forth. The biggest impediment is planning what we want to say, instead of responding to what was said. Bockrath’s approach is to view conversations as a collaborative effort of something built together by those involved.
So what can we do to improve our active listening? Good question, I am glad I asked it on your behalf to myself for the sake of writing this blog post. Well done me! The aforementioned article provides suggestions on what can be done to help improve active listening. I will touch on a few and how I implement them in my own life. The first is minimizing distractions to improve our environment. For me, the easiest way this comes to mind is setting my phone on Do Not Disturb during a session or even during phone calls. This reduces any distraction to me but also reduces interruption to my client as they are engaged in their process of sharing. The second tip is what the article calls “Explain Yourself”. At first glance, this seems long and cumbersome. However, if we engage it and practice it, it can be something quite simple and effective. Personally, I love the word bandwidth for some unknown reason but I find it works for me. If I find myself with higher stress or less patience than normal I try to let my partner know when I do not have enough bandwidth for something. Over the course of our relationship, we have learned how to address what each other needs at that moment without avoiding or denying something. In those instances, it works much better than when I am a curmudgeon, which I definitely can be at times.
At the end of the day, it happens to the best of us but we can do to help us improve! If you would like some help we can always be reached here!