Let's review a little of what we've learned so far. First, you're probably not as good at listening as you believe you are, but you're taking the right steps to get better at it. And, in a world full of lousy listeners, you're well on your way to standing out as a world-class listener. Second, there's a large and compelling body of research conducted over the last twenty years about the power of listening to improve your relationships, your work, and your life as whole. Remember, you spend 45%-70% of your time listening, so it's worth it to get better. Third, you need to set the right intentions for listening, otherwise, your hidden agendas come out and ruin things. Do you remember what your intentions should be? I am going to learn, and I am going to improve my relationship with the person speaking.
Setting the right intentions for listening is important, but you also need to set up the right environment. The right environment is one that is private and distraction-free.
Let's start with privacy. Here's my rule of thumb: small talk happens in big places, and big talk happens in small places. In other words, big crowded places like parties, crowded, busy hallways, there is where we make small talk. This is where we talk about the weather.
It's the small places where we have the big talk. The private office or conference room, when we're alone in a living room or bedroom, a private booth or table at a restaurant. This is where the big talk happens. To open up, we need to feel safe. And to accomplish that, we need privacy.
So if someone wants to talk to you and you're in a place where there are other people around or who are likely to show up at any time, try to move the conversation to somewhere private. Let's say you're at work, and you work in a cubicle, and a co-worker walks up to your cubicle and says, "Hey, do you have some time to talk?" You're just going to say, "Sure, let's see if we can find an empty conference room." I don't know what your workplace is like, but you can figure out an appropriate place and, of course, the same principles apply at home or with your friends.
So the first element of a good listening environment is privacy. The second element is a lack of distractions.
If you're in an office, this means shutting your laptop, silencing your desk phone, even sitting in a place where you won't be tempted to look at the clock on the wall. If you're at home, this might mean shutting off the TV.
And no matter where you are, there's one non-negotiable. That smartphone. You've got to silence it and get it out of your sight. Put it in a bag, a purse, a pocket, a drawer, but whatever you do, you've got to get it away from you. This device that you carry with you, which connects you to friends, family, and virtually every piece of information in the world is amazing. It's wonderful. And nothing has ever been quite so effective at grabbing someone's attention. The same thing that makes it so fantastic makes it a threat to good listening. It's too distracting. Even if you believe you're especially good at ignoring it, put it away anyway to avoid even creating the impression that you might look at it.
So what's the right environment? It's private and distraction-free. You're not always going to be able to do this perfectly, but you should try to do it as well as you can. As private as you can and as distraction-free as you can. This will not only help you manage your own attention, it will send a powerful message to another person that you are listening to. Now that you have the right intentions and the right environment, in the next lesson, we'll get into the mechanics of listening, you're going to learn what you're listening for.