M. Jackson Group Update – March 2019 – How To Be a Better Talker

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:
The Wall Street Journal includes an article: “No One Listening? Maybe You’re the Problem; Listeners typically shoulder the blame for disconnected conversations, distracted by screens and multitasking. But communication experts say talkers should examine their own actions, too” by Elizabeth Bernstein.
Here are some excerpts:
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A good friend called me recently to say hello. We chatted about his kids, a problem he was having at work, and his recent vacation.  When he asked how I was doing, I mentioned a big work project.  “The deadline is bearing down on me and I am stressed,” I said.
There was more silence.  Then my friend—who had woken me up at 6 a.m. to talk—blurted out: “Oh darn, I missed one!  I’m taking this online training course for work and just messed up the last answer.”
Ever feel like someone you’re talking to isn’t listening?  You’re not alone.  Listeners estimate that they tune out during conversations about 30% of the time, according to research from Harvard Business School, presented in its preliminary stage earlier this month at the annual conference for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
The blame is usually placed on the shoulders of the listener, distracted in the smartphone era by multiple screens and multitasking.  Solutions have concentrated on how to listen better: Put down your phone.  Make eye contact.  Ask open-ended questions.  Encourage the other person to elaborate.
But now communication experts say we need to focus on what the talker is doing wrong, too.  Often, they say, talkers engage in a monologue rather than a dialogue.  They drone on and ignore the listener’s cues that he or she is disengaged.  They sometimes accuse the listener of spacing out, causing hurt feelings or starting an argument.  They don’t let the listener get a word in.
“Usually, talkers are too active,” says Traci Ruble, a couples therapist and communication consultant in San Francisco, who is the founder of Sidewalk Talk, a nonprofit that sends groups of trained volunteers into the streets to talk with strangers.  
“The talker starts on a roll and never checks to see if they are being listened to, and the listener starts to feel objectified and thinks: ‘Do you even notice that I am here or are you just anxiously pouring out all your thoughts?’”
Ms. Ruble, who estimates that she’s trained about 8,000 people to communicate, says that talkers need to engage in “connected talking.” 
Connected talkers focus on four actions, she says.  They are aware of the listener and value what that person brings to the conversation.  They pay attention to what it feels like to be listened to and don’t get lost in their own head.  They feel gratitude for the listener.  And they are aware of the well-being of the listener, asking: “Am I overwhelming or losing the person?”
How do you put this into practice? Don’t just launch in. Ask the other person if they have time to chat. Then give them a hint of the emotional tenor of the conversation. You can say: “Hey, I’ve got some good news to share,” or “I’m falling apart, I could use some advice.” “Maybe people have time for a happy story but don’t have time to console you…,” Ms. Ruble says.
Next, be clear about what you need. Do you want advice, empathy, someone to hold your hand and just listen? Being open about what you want will help both you and the listener stay focused.
It’s important to pay attention to how much you appreciate the listener. Doing this will help the talker feel more heard.
You’ll also need to slow down your talking, make eye contact, pay attention to the other person’s responses and let the other person talk. Be aware of “anxious talking,” when you’re rambling on about anything that comes into your head. If that happens, ask yourself why you’re anxious. Sharing your worry can help the person feel more connected, too.
If the other person seems distracted or disengaged, don’t take it personally. Politely ask if there is something wrong or if they prefer to talk another time. And accept the answer. “If your listener doesn’t feel strong-armed into listening, then when they are listening they are really with you,” says Ms. Ruble.
How to Be a Better Talker
Here are some tips from Traci Ruble, a couples therapist in San Francisco and founder of Sidewalk Talk, a nonprofit that sends groups of trained volunteers into the streets to talk with strangers.
Don’t just launch in. Ask the other person if it’s a good time to chat.
Be clear about what you need from your listener—advice, empathy, an ear or a hug. Explain this.
Don’t take it personally if the listener can’t talk at that moment. Ask to chat at a better time.
Slow down. Breathe. Make eye contact. Let the other person talk, too.
Don’t ramble. If you do, get yourself back on track by saying: “My intention for sharing this with you right now is…” “It’s the ultimate gut check so you can be clear why you are sharing,” Ms. Ruble says.
If you sense the other person isn’t listening, politely ask what is going on or if there is a better time to talk. You may need to switch environments—move to another room, say—to remove distractions. If not listening is a pattern, discuss that and explain how this makes you feel.
Practice appreciating the listener more. This will help you feel more heard.
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Ken Pope
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“We’re all just walking each other home”  
—Harvard Psychologist Richard Alpert, later aka Ram Dass