Listening

Please, please, PLEASE do not read my blog if you are easily offended.  You will save us both a lot of time, angst, and hate mail.  If, however, you don’t mind laughing at my expense, read on.

When I was younger I had a hard time getting people to listen to me.  This was mostly because I didn’t WANT people to listen to me.  I was happiest when people were ignoring me, and when you are usually the tallest person in the room, getting people to ignore you is quite a trick.  I was quite blissful in my quiet anonymity.  Then one day I developed an opinion about something.  Suddenly I wanted people to listen to me.  At least occasionally.  I had become so quiet and blended in so well with the background that I couldn’t seem to get anyone to listen to what I was saying.  I set out trying to figure out a system of getting people’s attention.  While I am still not the best at this, I do have a system that works pretty well for me on those occasions when I need a listener.  I will now share with you my system.  This system works with both children and rude adults, because rude adults are basically just large children. 

Step One:  Remove all distractions.  You must do this BEFORE you even announce that you have something to say.  It is important that the listener does not know the topic of conversation until AFTER all distractions have been removed.  Your elementary school teacher was very good at this.  You remember that moment where they would say “Please clear everything off your desk.”  You would think Oh dear Lord!  Is it a test?  A pop quiz?  A tornado drill?  For the love of all that is pure and good, what is it!!!  This is the mindset you want.  Even if you are just reminding someone that red socks cannot be washed with white clothes unless you want to look like you’re wearing jammies all of the time. 

Removing distractions from a child is simple.  You simply turn off the television or take away the book or gaming device.  With adults it can be a little more tricky.  If you are at work and you turn off your co-worker’s computer, you may have to face some consequences.  If you take away an adult’s phone, the police may want to talk to you about stealing.  The trick here is to make what you are about to say seem so much more interesting than anything on facebook that they willingly leave all distractions behind.  You do this by putting an urgent look on your face and saying “Hey, can I talk to you for a moment, in private?”  The “in private” part of the question  implies that you may be revealing some horrible secret that you would never want anybody else to hear, and who wouldn’t want to listen to that?  Me, that’s who, but more on that in another post.  Maybe.

Step Two:  Establish eye contact.  This ensures that the listener finds nothing in the room, even the patterns in the tile floor, more interesting than you.  If the listener’s eyes are on you, there is a 76% greater chance that their mind is on you as well.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up.  (Okay, don’t look that up.  I made up the number, but logically it makes sense.)  The best way to get someone to look at you is to stand there quietly until they look at you.  If you are in a large group of people and Mike from Advertising refuses to give you the eye contact you deserve, I would suggest embarrassing him.  If Mike From Advertising fears public speaking more than death, all you have to do is ask him to “share with the class”.  However, if Mike From Advertising is a clown or loves to be the center of attention, you simply ask him to take his conversation, phone, or whatever he is doing outside and join the group when he is ready.  I find embarrassment to be a very effective way of getting someone’s attention, or at least getting them to shut up and stop distracting others. 

Step Three:  Keep it short.  The only time anyone wants to hear you go on and on with your flowery descriptions is if you are writing a love letter or if you are a poet.  I’m assuming that if you are struggling to get other people to listen to you, you are neither.  (If you do happen to be Taylor Mali, or someone writing a love letter, I apologize and am very flattered that you are reading my blog.  If you happen to be Taylor Mali writing me a love letter, then I am VERY flattered but The Pastor wouldn’t approve and have you seen how pretty he is?  I couldn’t possibly accept your love letter, maybe.)  If you do not keep it short, your audience will start doing things like staring at you while, in their head, they are writing their next blog post or replaying their favorite movie.  I would never do something like that.  Especially not while The Pastor is monologing or my children are reliving their latest video game out loud for me. 

Step Four: Don’t allow interruptions.  While you are keeping it short you should also not allow for interruptions.  This is best done by simply not allowing for any breaks in your talking that would be big enough for anyone else to start talking.  However, sometimes the interrupter is stealth.  If this happens you can simply cut them off and say “There will be a time for questions at the end.”  Just remember that if you say this, you have to actually offer a time to ask questions.  Once you are done talking you should ask something like “Is that clear?” or “Any questions?” just to make sure that no one can claim that they didn’t understand everything you said.  Believe me.  Someone will claim that they didn’t understand everything you said.  They will not bring this up at your question time, though.  They will wait for a time that is totally and completely inconvenient or, if they are your child, embarrassing for you.  It’s nice to give them an opportunity to ask questions anyway. 

Step Five:  Reward your listener.  If you are funny, you might tell a little joke.  If you are not funny, you might thank your audience for their time or tell them how much you appreciate them.  If I am your audience, throwing Snickers bars might be appropriate.  And then stop talking.

If, at any point, you lose control of the conversation even though you are keeping it short, I do have one little trick to get it back.  This trick works surprisingly well with all age groups.  You simply gasp and then whisper “Shh, shh, listen!  Did you hear that?!”  People want to be in the know, especially about strange noises, so they will immediately forget whatever it was that they were doing and start really concentrating on listening.  You may have to repeat it two or three times, but trust me, the room will become quiet enough to hear a pin drop.  This is when you start talking again, and for whatever reason, no one seems to recognize that you have fooled them.

These are my five steps to getting people to listen to you.  Use them wisely and I hope they work well for you.

 

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