As my family collectively gets older, it’s clear that some of our interests overlap, and other interests are an individual pursuit. While my four brothers all tend to be curiously interested in a lot of topics, they aren’t as immersed in the world of educational engagement and growing a business as myself. My brothers are more immersed in other topics. One brother is deeply passionate about music, another about science and politics, another about health and gamification, and another about film and editing.
If I had my way, I’d love to spend the whole holiday talking about educational engagement and growing a business…especially if it were related to my work at Swift Kick. But in reality, my brothers would probably only be interested in talking about my passions for an hour or so, before they would get bored. It’s no fault of their own, according to a study done by sociologist Charles Derber, it’s human nature to want to talk about ourselves more than listen to others. Charles coined the term “conversational narcissism” which implies that people knowingly, or unknowingly, will seek to turn the attention of others to themselves throughout the conversation.
So if you want to engage your family better over the holidays, go against your natural tendencies to talk about yourself and instead engage in active listening around their interests.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people, than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
Here are four steps to becoming a master listener:
1) Find Their Hooks
As with my brothers, everyone has topics that get them excited or interested. The more you can zero in on an individual’s interests in your conversation, the more excited and engaged in the conversation the other person will be.
2) 2 Ears – 1 Mouth
You were born with two ears and one mouth, use them at the same ratio. In a conversation, you can’t be listening and talking at the same time. Make it a goal to listen for half as much as you talk. If you really want to get scientific about your ratio, there are several phone apps that will help track how much each person actually talks during a conversation.
3) Block The Wandering Mind
Keeping focused, especially when the topic might not be the most interesting to you, is extremely hard. But focus is a skill that one can build up over time. In the midst of a conversation, one trick I use once I notice my mind wandering is to internally say, “Back to [NAME OF PERSON].” Admittingly, I have found myself saying the phrase several times in a row to bring back my concentration on the conversation.
4) Non-Verbal Curiosity
With one popularly cited study from Albert Mehrabian, non-verbal communication can comprise up to 55% of a conversation. So engaging in a conversation isn’t just about asking the right questions, it’s also about displaying the right kind of body language. Three simple ways to “trick” your body to stay engaged are…
a) Eye contact
b) Leaning forward towards the person
c) Nodding your head.
As you head home this holiday season, instead of jumping right to opening your month to share all the amazing things happening in your world, take a step back, use the skills I shared here, and open your ears to the amazing things happening in your family’s world. Not only will they appreciate you more for it, you might even find yourself curiously interested in topics you never knew you would.