Conversation has the power to connect – it’s how we form relationships, share ideas and experiences, learn, and collaborate. But conversations aren’t always great, and it’s not uncommon to leave interactions feeling unchanged or even more disconnected than before. The difference maker is your capacity for listening.
Kristin Duncan, Leader of Mastering Your Journey Operations at Siegfried, describes the optimal mindset for productive conversation and positive, authentic connection as “connected listening.”
Connected listening builds upon the well-known concept of ‘active listening’ and takes it a step further, shifting the focus from yourself and onto the other person as you empower them to have a place at the table. Connected listening creates a safe, open, and uninterrupted environment where your conversation partner can be truly heard. It’s about more than just showing that you’re paying attention, as is typically the case with active listening. It’s about actually paying attention.
“I wanted to deepen my own understanding of how exactly it is I relate to people and when I have those more intimate conversations,” Kristin shared. “Connected listening is really about putting yourself in the position of the other person and considering, what might they need of me? How can you go into an interaction in such a way that you’re being of service to what the other person needs, rather than going in with your own narrative or agenda?”
The six aspects of connected listening
As Kristin thought through and experimented with this concept further, she developed six key elements of what it means to be a connected listener. Each of these elements work synergistically, and if you practice them with intention, you can develop the skills of a better, more connected conversationalist and elevate your interactions.
1. Listening without intent to answer
Refrain from formulating a response in your mind as your conversation partner is still talking. This is just noise that prevents you from listening. By quieting your internal dialogue and surrendering to not having all the answers, you can really pay attention and be perceptive – to the other person’s body language, the words they’re using, their emotions as they speak, etc. And shifting your attention away from your role in the conversation and onto the other person will allow you to better comprehend and connect with what they have to say.
“Everyone wants to be witty and bright and show that they’ve got the right answer,” explained Kristin. “But then, you miss the conversation because you’re in your head, thinking about what your response is going to be. Listening without intent to answer reframes your mindset to focus on the other person and think, ‘I’m in this conversation for you, rather than what I’m going to get out of it.’”
2. Resisting the impulse to interject
Saving your comments, especially those that shift the conversation’s focus onto yourself, can help others feel seen and heard. Holding back from sharing your thoughts is difficult – we all want to have our say. But sometimes, to best connect with others, you must honor their space in the moment. This includes recognizing that your contribution may not be necessary or could be saved for another time or day.
“It takes trust to not show up and throw up, telling your conversation partner everything that you could possibly share with them all in one sitting,” said Kristin. “It takes trust to be somewhat reserved, to focus on them, to leave the discussion knowing that you still have more to share but being okay with not sharing it in that moment. It takes trust to believe that there will be another day and to save your comments for then. But by doing so, you’re creating a container with the other person, or a space where they will, more likely than not, want to seek you out again.”
3. Withholding judgements or conclusions
We all have our own paradigms and belief systems that not everyone shares, and prior to interacting with people, we sometimes formulate judgements about who they are based on their political views, lifestyle, values, etc. But we can’t love and judge at the same time, and when entering conversations with those who are different than us, it’s incredibly important to silence these stories we tell in our heads. Coming to premature conclusions about those we interact with blocks us from truly seeing who they are and hearing what they have to say. And when this mental wall goes up, we limit what could otherwise be an enlightening conversation or true connection.
“You shouldn’t go into interactions thinking that your truth is the absolute best truth and only reality,” explained Kristin. “Because the reality is the ways in which you were raised – your background, your culture, your education – as well as how you experience the world today, all factor into who you are. And who am I to judge who you are?”
4. Listening with an open, quiet heart and mind
Listening with an open, quiet heart and mind means silencing the internal noise that keeps you from actually hearing the other person. This noise can include your judgements about what they are saying, your to-do list for the rest of the day, or as discussed in the first element of connected listening, your future response.
As a connected listener, you cannot allow this inner narrative to take control and pull you away from engaging with what’s being shared. You must remain completely present and committed to listening, refusing to be distracted by thoughts that won’t serve your conversation or connection.
“This is where active listening differs. I could be sitting in a conversation and nodding along, but in my head, I could be thinking about picking up my dry cleaning, or my kid forgetting his lunch, or anything else going on. So, just nodding and showing that physicality means nothing if my heart and brain aren’t present.”
5. Exercising a high level of emotional intelligence, or EQ
Having the EQ to understand the other person’s verbal and nonverbal cues can help you better connect. For example, when somebody is struggling or comes to you with a problem, you naturally want to be helpful, so you will likely offer advice. But did they ask? Were they looking for advice, or did they just want someone to listen? Practicing EQ can help you notice when you’re invited to speak, as well as understand what the other person needs from or is asking of you.
Additionally, when you show up as your most authentic, vulnerable self, you aren’t concerned with saving face and create the opportunity to form more genuine connections. Often, we try to be perfect, or to be who the other person is expecting us to be, rather than just being who we are. Having the EQ to operate in a vulnerable space encourages others to do the same and dig deeper in your conversations. Exercising EQ in this way is also important for listening without intent to answer, showing how these components of connected listening work together.
6. Adopt a mindset of gratitude and curiosity
Whatever the circumstances of the conversation are – whether the other person is someone you love to collaborate with or is someone you don’t typically enjoy speaking with, whether they’re praising you or giving you constructive feedback – interact with others in a space of gratitude. Think of everyone as having a gift that you have the privilege of coming into contact with and focus on what you might learn or gain from the conversation.
“If you go into a conversation thinking, ‘This is going to be really challenging,’ or ‘this person’s such a headache,’ then it’s more likely to ring true because it’s what you’re expecting. You’re already putting up a barrier of how much you’re willing to listen,” explained Kristin.
But if you go into your conversations interested, curious, and grateful for the other person’s time and what they have to say, then you can really listen. And this will open you up to topics and connections that you might not have anticipated.
The same is true for all elements of connected listening – practicing them with intention will help you be more connected with those around you, which might impact you in expected or unexpected ways.
“Connected listening is really just encouraging people to be intentional about paying attention,” said Kristin. “Don’t go into interactions blindly and think that they are always going to be great. Practice these things. Put some energy into it. Put some intention toward it. And see what happens.”