Consider this scenario: your friend is telling you a story, and suddenly you think of something brilliant to add to the conversation, maybe a great story of your own. You start chasing that idea in your mind and thinking what you’ll say and how you’ll say it, and before you know it, you’re hardly listening at all. When your friend finally finishes, or even pauses, in you plunge with your witty/relevant/meaningful remark.
I do this a lot.
Making assumptions, interrupting with my own example, and focusing on what I’ll say next come quite naturally to me.
As a coach, my job is to do the opposite. I need to listen intently, keep an open mind and focus solely on the other person. It’s an area I’m growing in, and I’m constantly surprised by the results. I listen intently to every word. Instead of assuming I know what’s going on, I ask. The answers are rarely what I expect. Maybe the challenge holding someone back is their fear of rejection. Maybe they don’t want to fail. Maybe it’s just too many video games. Regardless, I find that bringing a childlike curiosity into the conversation and quieting the internal biases allows us, together, to uncover what’s really going on.
This incredible privilege—getting into the trenches with the Talent I coach and offering my undivided attention—is shifting my communication outside work as well. Transformative is the best word to describe this change, but don’t assume it’s easy.
Finding contexts when total listening can occur takes discipline, energy, and being willing to create new habits instead of falling into old patterns of interrupting and cutting someone off. It’s easy to let my guard down at the end of the day around the dinner table and not fully engage with my husband’s story about his PhD research or my 2 year old’s repeated, “Mommy, look, what’s that?”
Tuning them out in these family moments means missing opportunities for showing love, offering helpful feedback, or even sharing a good laugh when listening to our daughter. This engagement takes energy, discipline and a special level of discernment. For instance, when I’m at the grocery store with two active, hungry kids, it’s not wise to devote every ounce of attention to the cashier. One kid might escape and climb up a restocking ladder (not that this has happened before, twice).
Yet, when I’m on my own, I can take a moment to ask this person how their day is going and genuinely listen for the answer instead of the near-robotic and mindless exchange of pleasantries. The simple question, “How are you?” followed by a pause and an expectant look at the other person, opens a window and creates a space for them to feel cared about and valued.
I recently put this question to a cashier at Walgreens and she told me it was her first day back after going through a major health issue, and that I was the first person to notice. She said I made her day. The truth is, I hadn’t been to this Walgreens in 6 months and had no idea who she was. But the way I asked the question made her feel so valued, she simply assumed I was a regular customer who had missed her while she was gone.
This is where the magic happens. A question. A pause. Total listening.
Each of us has the power to care for another human being by paying attention to them. How can you use this today to transform your own leadership? How can you use this most ancient of practices to care for those around you? How can this be a gateway to creating an edifying work environment where people feel appreciated?
Tough as it to fully engage, I don’t want to be known for the alternative. Nodding, fake smiling and being mentally distracted all send the message that you’re not worth my full attention.
It’s tempting to think no one will notice if I check out a little during the conversation, but if I can tell when someone’s checked out (and I can tell!), I imagine folks can tell when I do the same.
When you have the opportunity, give the gift of total listening. It will cost you mental energy and it will cost you time. But can you think of many better ways to invest these precious resources?
Try this recipe. It’s so easy! Throw it in the crockpot. It’s so simple! Pinterest headlines make it seem that everything in life can be had with zero effort. From finances (stupid easy budgeting!) to exercise (5 minute abs!) the prevailing message is that we can have everything we want in life—without working for it.
Effort is bad. Ease is good. The quicker the better.
I’ve subscribed to this same mentality, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve told people, “Try it yourself. It’s super easy.”
I used to proclaim 5-ingredient recipes to all my acquaintances. The same goes for exercise, because I’ve long been a fan of the 7 minute workout.
In the midst of racing around and doing everything in the fastest, most convenient way possible, I’ve begun to question just which destination I’m running towards.
I’ve started to wonder whether, in pursuing ease, I’m sacrificing quality. What is being gained aside from a couple minutes?
When I took the time to list some of the most important accomplishments in my life, I realized the common denominator was this: they didn’t come easy. Climbing a 14,000 foot mountain, having children, maintaining a loving marriage—these things all took and continue to take tremendous effort.
Inspired by this revelation, I began trying to do certain things “the hard way.” Rather than buy herbs pre-grown, I grew my own this summer and dehydrated the extra basil, tarragon and oregano for winter. And instead of buying a bag of pumpkin seeds, I hand-picked the seeds out of our Halloween pumpkins so I could clean and roast them for a healthy evening snack. It was slimy. It took time. But the end result, toasted in sea salt and coconut oil? Heavenly.
What does this mean, aside from the fact that I have gotten really into cooking and gardening lately? My point is this: sometimes hard stuff is good. For instance: I have a good job. I’m a coach who gets to invest in leaders across the country. But this job is also hard. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I must read books and pursue continual learning to do my best.
And you know what I’ve discovered? I love the struggle. I’m thankful that it’s hard. The challenge of being a better coach stretches me and allows me to discover new potential in myself I never knew I had.
Ease is a fact of life. We live in an abundant society where we don’t have to grind our own flour to make bread from scratch every day. And thank goodness for that!
Here’s what I’m learning, though. Ease isn’t an end in and of itself. The fact that I had to put effort into something and really work up a sweat can make the end product sweeter. Even more than that, working hard cultivates my character.
My labors teach me that not every urge ought to be instantaneously gratified. I learn patience. I grow to appreciate the work that goes into life’s conveniences, remembering the farmers and the factory workers involved in getting the delicious Cashew Cookie Larabar snack into my shopping cart. In short, a thankful attitude and increased self-control both blossom out of a commitment to hard work.
I leave you with this challenge: do something hard today. Pull weeds. Split wood. Call someone who isn’t easy to talk to and ask how they’re doing. When we do hard things on a regular basis, we become resilient people, better equipped to navigate the inevitable hardships of life, and better able to flexibly navigate rapidly evolving workplaces.
This isn’t a quick fix (do 5 hard things and transform your life!) But it’s a real fix, a slow-but-true fix that can transform not just individuals but all of society into sturdy and hardworking people.
Finally, I want to mention special thanks to Ben Sasse whose new book The Vanishing American Adult no doubt inspired much of this post!
If you’re like me, most of my clients, or hey, Americans in general, you struggle with time. It feels like we’re always juggling too much at once, and there aren’t possibly enough hours in the day to squeeze everything in. In the midst of our busyness, we let certain priorities fall by the wayside. We may have a vague sense that we aren’t managing our time well, but we’re uncertain how we could steward it better.
Do you wish you could read more books, exercise, or meal prep? What about having daily prayer time or listening to more podcasts? What are the important tasks that you intend to do, truly desire to do, yet never actually accomplish?
Again, it comes back to time. It feels like there isn’t enough of the stuff.
The truth is, we are busier than ever. We live in a fast-paced society that is borderline obsessed with productivity, and we can feel trapped in the rat race. But there is hope! Let me explain.
First, I want you to find your phone. It’s probably in your hand at this very moment. Give it a good looking over. This handy little device serves so many purposes. It’s a camera, a GPS, a television screen, an entertainment console. It tells you the weather and the football score and what other movies that actor has been in. Oh yeah, and you can also call people on it!
This device in the palm of your hand can do so much for you, and yet it loves to take.
Do you know how many minutes you are investing in your phone on a daily basis as you scroll through Instagram, create clever snaps, and otherwise find yourself absorbed in your screen? I suggest you find out. Further, I suggest you consider: what is your return on that investment?
I bet if you’re honest, you have no idea on either front. Most likely, you underestimate the amount of time you spend on social media each day. Aside from killing time and offering a temporary distraction, what’s the benefit of so much screen time?
But before you decide this is a condemning blog post railing against cell phones (it sort of is) and stop reading, I want to focus on some encouraging news.
I bet you could find the time, right now, today, to accomplish something you’ve been putting off. Imagine how amazing you will feel when you start that book you’ve been meaning to read, or go for the run you’ve been putting off for weeks. If you simply switch up your time investment and move away from the screen in your hand, you can reap a feeling of satisfaction from accomplishing something.
Here are some ideas to get your media consumption in check and free up time to take care of your health, grow as a leader, prioritize relationships with family and friends, and cultivate spiritual growth.
First things first. Download the Moment App. It’s free. It’s user-friendly, and it tells you exactly many minutes you are spending on your phone each day, breaking it down by time spent per app.
Once you’ve established your baseline use, it’s time to re-assess. For instance, I learned that I typically sign in to my phone 49 times per day. Now that I know the average, I can work on reducing that. I’ve started keeping my phone face down or in a drawer for certain periods of the day. I keep it on silent. Sometimes, I use Do Not Disturb mode to keep distractions at bay.
Moment also reveals what apps you use most, and for how long. Once you’ve seen the results, you may want to consider Step 2: a social media fast.
This type of fast is simple to setup. For instance, when I need a social media detox, I have my husband change the password to my accounts and I take a month off. That’s all there is to it. I recover 15-20 valuable minutes each day that I would otherwise be spending on various social media platforms.
For you, the apps may be different. Maybe it’s Netflix or maybe it’s games. Whatever it is, ask yourself what return you are getting on that time investment? Then, consider deleting the most time-sucking apps or having a friend change your passwords for a specific period of time.
You just might decide (like I did) that a quick jog outside, preparing a home-cooked meal, or finishing the book you’ve been meaning to get through will give you far more satisfaction and joy than the time spent staring into your device.
Time is precious. Let’s use it to move towards our goals instead of advancing through another level of Candy Crush.