The Easiest Way To Be More Likable
I’ve written about the negative impact of our distracted attention on others, and how poor listening skills impair connection. Perhaps the flip side of this norm of perpetual distraction is that when we do give our full attention to others, we offer them, and ourselves, a rare gift. Providing another person with our undivided attention is no simple feat, but it’s worthwhile: being present can transform not only our interpersonal relationships, but also ourselves.
Research has shown that what we choose to focus on actually wires our neurons, an idea that applies to our communication with others. According to the author of Getting What You Want and Resolving Conflict Sooner: “Simply gazing steadily and warmly at that person, nodding at times and reiterating what you heard will activate an empathic, mirror-neuron response in both of you.” In other words, being a good listener makes us more caring.
Ultimately, giving another person your undivided attention is mutually beneficial. In a Harvard Business Review post, it states: “Giving and receiving undivided attention, even briefly, is the least that one individual can do for another — and sometimes the most. And yet, attending to others doesn’t just help them — it helps us, by evoking responses that help the listener feel cared for, useful, and connected to the larger world. Paying attention may be an individual effort, but it’s also a kind of social cement that holds groups together and helps them feel part of something greater than themselves.”
In the end, giving someone our full attention doesn’t take any special skill – just intention. The following are some ways that we can be more present in our conversations with others:
Instead of multitasking while talking…
Focus entirely on the person in front of you, even if it requires physically moving away from distractions. Put your phone away and close your laptop. Enact “immediacy behaviors,” verbal and nonverbal cues that show you are actively listening. Lean into the person and give them good eye contact. Ask the other person open-ended questions and use subtle encouragers like “yep” and “mmm hmm.” This will show the other person that you care about what they are saying.
In a study in which 342 people were divided into pairs and one person was asked to describe a recent stressful event to the other, Graham D. Bodie, an associate professor of communication studies at Louisiana State University, found that when the listeners made eye contact, paraphrased, and asked open-ended questions, the talker perceived the listener as more emotionally aware. They also felt much better about their stressful situation.
Instead of running from one meeting to the next…
Take a few minutes between meetings in order to center yourself. Don’t just fill the fifteen minutes in between by checking emails or trying to get other work done. Instead, consider the intent of your next conversation and make sure you have everything you need in order to go into that meeting fully prepared.
You can also try taking a three-minute breathing space. Dr. Danny Penman, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World, suggests stopping whatever you’re doing, sitting at your desk or some other quiet space, and taking three minutes to focus on inhaling and exhaling deeply. “If you’re feeling especially frantic, a three-minute breathing space will help clarify your thoughts, calm down your whole approach to life and will make you so much more productive and on-the-ball. It’s just transformative.” For guided three-minute mediations, click here.
Instead of listening just to get our points in…
Listen for what’s important to the other person. Bodie says: “Active listening starts with the real desire to help another person think through their feelings.”
In other words, you should be listening out of a genuine curiosity for the other person, not just as an excuse to talk about what you have to say. Come into your conversation with your focus solely on the other person. They will notice and appreciate you for it.
Instead of bringing the frenetic energy of your work day to the conversation…
Our days can have a currency to them that directly conflicts with being in the moment, as we busily multitask and try to stay two steps ahead.
You create a space for yourself and others when you simply focus on the conversation you are having right now, without the baggage of whatever came before it. Reset your energy to match the conversation at hand. Keep your mind focused on the present moment.
Harvard Professor and expert on mindfulness, Ellen Langer, has some wise words to offer on this subject: “Life consists only of moments, nothing more than that. So if you make the moment matter, it all matters.”
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