Can you listen when you think you already know it all? Not really. When you’re listening to something and you think, “I already know this,” there is no learning. Subsets of this lack of paying attention to another person are: “I’ve heard this before,” and “Here we go again with this story.” No Progress can be made.
When these phrases pop into our thoughts, there is no communication. Nothing the other person says afterward can penetrate these walls. In an effort to be in the conversation, people often repeat themselves. No wonder we believe we’ve heard it before – we probably have!
These are visible walls in a conversation – they look like an eye roll, a sigh, a shift in gaze, leaning back, crossing the arms, pointing the body or the feet away from our partner and fidgeting with our cellphones. These are the nonverbal communication blocks that we add to the foundation of our conversations. And they are effective. Confronted with negatively perceived nonverbal cues, a common response is to stop talking – to stop wasting our breath. Talking when no one is listening is painful for the one doing the talking; not feeling heard or listened to often results in feelings of being devalued or disrespected. Additionally, it can keep us out of the next conversation if we attach it to our self-worth or importance. “Why bother” can become a catch-phrase when communication looms. Before we know it, keeping ourselves out of the conversation turns into a habit of being isolated.
Two People have to Talk and Both Have To Listen
Communication is a two-way street, not a dead end. Being fully in the conversation takes being present and it takes practice. Practice by putting away your cellphone and making the other person the focus of your attention. Approach the conversation as if you are meeting this person for the first time; ask questions and listen to their replies. Be curious if the conversation moves into a story you think you’ve heard before; what does your partner want you to know about him/her from the story? How come you haven’t heard it?
Showing up in the conversation opens communication. Open communication promotes free self-expression and trust. It’s a win-win.