Lets face it, there are very few things in life that are more important to us than our relationships with others.
Look back to some of the most painful experiences you’ve ever had and I’ll bet that almost 100% of them will be related to people rather than things.
The fact is, human beings are not wired to exist as solitary individuals.
We may have traits that make us unique and different to everybody else but very few people on this planet can live meaningfully in total solitude without human connection.
Connection with others may not be compulsory to your survival needs. But it is defiantly compulsory to your emotional and spiritual needs and a big part of this is being listened to by others.
If you’re like me, you’re probably not too interested in being the centre of attention the moment you walk into a room. All you want is for others to just take the time to listen to what you have to say and for your words to be appreciated by others.
That’s not too much to ask, right?
The epidemic of attention
As much as I get excited to talk about modern technology and how it can help people live simpler lives, I don’t pretend that it hasn’t created problems and challenges.
Over the past few decades, people have been conditioned to give their attention to screens first, and people second.
Parents come home from a stressful day at work to indulge in their favourite TV shows. Teenagers come home from a boring day at school to hide away in their room and escape to a fantasy world within a video game. Groups of people sit around a restaurant table with a large portion of their attention on their smartphones instead of each other.
Another challenge that we face today, is the amount of informational noise that we’re exposed to every day.
With irrelevant information bombarding us left, right and centre from an infinity of different channels and sources, we really have only two options:
- Give everything a tiny and unfocused amount of attention
- Ignore the majority
As a result, people today have very short attention spans. Maybe even shorter than any time in human history which makes getting people to listen to you one of the greatest challenges of the 21s century.
The irony of attention
For me, connecting with others is one of those areas in life that just didn’t come easily or naturally. Besides my social anxiety, I was very bad at keeping a persons attention.
Sometimes this was related to technology such as when people would check their Facebook status during conversation. Other times it had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with my poor of social skills.
Over time, I grew frustrated and would avoid socialising whenever possible. Of course, this did little to solve the problem as I knew I’d never be able to live meaningfully without being able to connect with others.
After several long walks alone, something dawned on me.
I stopped asking the question: Why don’t people listen to me?
And replaced it with: Why should people listen to me?
Asking this question changed the way I thought about how I interact with others. It forced me to approach conversation as a place to contribute to instead of to take away from.
My new goal was to find satisfaction in my words bringing value to others.
Ironically, it was this new mindset of contribution that allowed me to gain the attention of others and ultimately connect with them.
Today, I’m able to enjoy mindful conversation with pretty much everybody I meet. I enjoy eye contact and being acknowledged. I enjoy being able to express my views even if the other person doesn’t fully agree with me. I enjoy having the persons full attention over their smartphone. I enjoy being listened to.
I’m still an introvert meaning I prefer to spend the majority of my time alone. But I’ve also learned to interact with others just as well as somebody who’s extroverted.
I’d like to share with you five unique energies (for lack of a better word) that you can bring to a conversation that can help you gain and hopefully keep the attention of others.
Chances are at least one or more of them already resonate within you now.
You see, no matter how deep your need is to be listened to, appreciated and understood, there is no law that obligates people to give you their attention. And in a world where people are so used to staring at screens, the only thing you can do is offer something more exciting and more interesting.
Speaking of which;
When expressed in the right way, enthusiasm gives a positive vibe that others will find welcoming and uplifting. This is especially strong if you’re the kind of person who has a genuine interest not only in your own passions, but in the passions of other people too.
It’s very difficult to ignore the people who take the time to appreciate and show interest in others.
When a person has practically zero enthusiasm on the other hand, it can feel like they suck the life and energy out of you like a vacuum. Have you ever met anybody like this? Do you enjoy listening to them?
As great as enthusiasm can be in conversation, you do need to be mindful of how much time you spend listening to others. Often when you’re excited it’s easy to lose track of how much you listen to others.
Listen just as much as you express, and your enthusiasm should rub off on others in positive ways.
There’s a certain habit that has sadly become common practice in modern conversation.
While others are speaking, most people do not listen to what is being said.
Instead, their energy is focused on what would be an appropriate response or what they would like to say when it’s their turn to speak.
The opposite of this behaviour is to be Empathetic.
Empathy is about intentional listening and seeing things from somebody else’s point of view and understanding why they might feel that way.
Listening is the keyword here.
If you’ve ever found yourself asking; why doesn’t anybody understand me?, then you’ll likely know just how painful a lack of empathy can feel.
Despite being very rare these days, being empathetic is one of the best things you can do to build trust with those closest to you.
You don’t necessarily have to be the kind of person who has an answer for every situation. Often just the act of truly listening to somebody else is all the support they need to remain strong and overcome their challenges and ultimately grow from the experience.
No matter how advanced, accessible and addictive technology may become, empathetic listening will always be something that can only be offered from one human being to another.
Even some of the most melancholic people I know like to laugh.
There’s enjoyment and fulfilment to be had in helping others to let go and indulge in such joy.
Interestingly from my own experience, I’ve found that humour doesn’t actually require you to be as witty or spontaneous as standup comedians on late night TV.
What’s more important is how your presence influences the overall mood and atmosphere.
If you can get people into a laughing mood, it usually doesn’t take much to trigger it.
Of course, as great as humour is it should never be at somebody else’s expense.
Not only is it uncool but it can also communicate that you have a great deal of insecurity which can push people away from you. Be mindful of this and don’t say anything too sensitive unless the person you’re speaking to trusts you.
Do you regularly like to feed your mind with new facts, information and knowledge?
Do your perspectives about everyday life tend to be different from most people?
Are you openminded and always willing to listen to new philosophies?
I personally get a lot of enjoyment out of detail orientated conversation especially when it involves learning something new.
If you’d like to be perceived as knowledgable and well informed, try sharing what you learn with others. More than likely it will be ten fold more interesting than basic small talk.
If you go back far enough in history before writing came about, there was only one way to indulge in a story and that was to listen to somebody.
Today of course, this is not the case as we can also consume stories via books, blogs, social media and even TV.
People crave stories beyond their day-to-day life and have done for a long time. Today is no different.
If you’ve had experiences that are challenging, dangerous, dramatic, outrageous or just plain weird, people want to know about them!
Telling a story actually requires more skill than people may assume.
The good news?
Like any other skill, storytelling is something that anybody (including you) can learn.
Storytelling has little to do with being eccentric or charismatic. It has everything to do with how you set a scene, create curiously, build suspense and ultimately nail the punchline.
If you believe that your experiences are worth listening to, learn to tell your stories in ways people can engage with and enjoy. Your social life will improve dramatically.
I wish I could tell you that these ideas can work as “quick-fix” instant gratification solutions.
However, I’m much more honest than that. Conversation is a skill like all others and requires daily practice over the longterm.
I’m also not suggesting that you mould your personality into something that conforms with the majority of society.
That would only make it even more difficult to gain peoples attention.
Be eccentric, be different and be interesting.
Be so interesting that the people around will put down their smartphones and listen to you. Make them realise what they’re truly missing out on.