Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and you could tell you didn’t have their complete attention?

How did it make you feel?

A bit annoyed, I imagine.

In an age of saturation with smartphones and tablets, it is even harder to stay present with people.  The good news is that it is easy to set yourself apart from the pack by being fully engaged with people.

Being present means making the other feel listened to and important; listening so that the person you are with will talk.  As I have said before, people believe and follow what they hear themselves say, not what you or may say to them.

Rule #1 – You can’t fake it.  People will see right through your cheesy tone, empty words and goofy smile.  Don’t be like the many senior housing sales people who patronize prospects and approach them as “cute grandmas and grandpas.”

Here’s how to listen so people will talk:

  • Show up. All of you. Pay attention to what may be distracting you and put those things aside, including your phone.  Be present.
  • Look up. Take a few seconds to notice the person you are with.  Make eye contact.
  • Cheer up.   A smile communicates far more than your words could ever say.  Experience the joy of simply being with another human being.
  • Speak up. Ask questions.  Paraphrase what they have said and ask, “Am I understanding you correctly?”

Several years ago, I was meeting with a senior living prospect and her daughter.  At one point the aging adult said, “I suppose if I move in here I will have to give up my car.”  What I might have said is, “Don’t worry about that, we have a bus.”  What I said instead was, “Please tell me about your first car.”

30 minutes later she had shared her favorite stories of life of her new found freedom as a teenager driving her 1942 Plymouth.  I listened for the meaning, the story.  It wasn’t about our bus.  It was about her fear of losing her independence.

When we interact with people, we are aiming for movement.  An emotion, a decision, a small step forward, a commitment, a lesson.

Leave your advice in the car.  Along with your phone.

The views expressed here are solely my own and do reflect the views and opinions of my employer.

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