Becoming a better listener

Lessons learned from when words suddenly don’t make sense

To sell well, I had to do three things: Ask questions, shut up and listen, then repeat the answers back.

I love this advice, but the bit about repeating the answers back makes me wince when I think about applying it to my own conversations. I’m not always in control of my ability to listen effectively.

How it feels when words transform into auditory snow.

And then there’s silence…

They’ve stopped talking. I have no idea what they said. Now they’re looking at me and waiting for a response, which is a reasonable expectation considering that I’ve been an attentive conversation partner up until 30 seconds ago.

Capturing words

I’ve struggled with these states of confusion my entire life. When I’m alone, I embrace the bewilderment. It feels good. So good that it’s almost worth a lifetime of half-grokked conversations.

Record the conversation

I regularly record phone calls and the results are fucking magical. Once the call is over, I transfer the audio to my computer and play it back at a slower speed in VLC Media Player where I can transcribe all or some of the conversation. This is similar to how you might log interview tape for a podcast.

Ask for a time-out

I start to panic whenever I feel myself getting distracted, and panic leads to further confusion and distraction, and then I’m done for. So before I get lost (especially if I’m not recording), I’ll ask my conversation buddy to pause so I can let the panic pass and get back on track.

These tips might seem like common sense when you see them written down, but when you’re in the middle of a conversation that you’re starting to loose track of, it’s good to have a sensitive time-out interjection memorized.

Allow room for silence

If I’m not recording and have also missed my time-out window, my last best option is to sit in silence for a moment. I’ll try to let the panic and confusion pass, perhaps revealing a bit of meaning that I can use to move forward with.

One of the many Jason Foxes. Content designer at Chime.