Listen: Conversation can be more like Jazz

Mark Twain once said “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” And that was over a century ago!

Studies show that most of us listen only about 20% of the time. And much of what passes for listening is really just formulating what we want to say while someone else is speaking. We all need to learn to listen like an improviser. When you listen improvisationally, you perform listening with a focus not on yourself and what you’re going to say next, but on what the other person is saying and doing. You let it land, let them impact you, and then respond given what you have heard. Conversation can be more like jazz — where you’re building and creating and riffing off what you hear.

Today, driven by technology and data, much of our communication is transactional, and our relationships suffer for it. On the other hand, conversation is at the heart of your workplace performances, and real conversation depends on real listening

Put listening first: Pick two meetings and a one-on-one conversation that are coming up and choose to make listening your priority performance. Try not to listen for anything, and don’t assume you know what’s coming. Pause longer than you normally would before you respond. Ask questions. Make more eye contact than you usually do. And then let what you hear have an impact on you.

More than words: Take special notice of body language offers. How someone sits, their facial expressions, their walk, what they’re looking at, and more. Take these offers in, and let them impact what you do next.

Summing-up: Listen is a revolutionary way to have a conversation.

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