We have so many conversations every day—it’s one of the core fundamentals of human interaction. And yet, we can be pretty bad at it. We are distracted, disengaged, or don’t have strong communication skills. We really are not listening.
Case and point: look around the restaurant next time you go out to eat. You’ll see families or groups of friends scrolling through their phones rather than chatting with each other. We are easily distracted, and it impacts our conversations.
But we all have a deep hunger to be truly listened to and know our presence matters. That’s why cultivating effective communication skills and learning to become more present in a conversation is a core piece of emotional intelligence. Let’s look at how to practice presence the next time you have a conversation.
A good conversation starts with preparation. This is especially important when entering an important or challenging conversation. Take time to prepare for it by considering these aspects:
- Knowledge: What do I know about this person? Consider their personality type and your past interactions with them.
- Bias: Do I have any biases that I’m bringing to this conversation? This may influence how you show up and listen to them.
- Time: When are we meeting? Consider how the time of day affects your energy levels and ability to focus. Also ensure there is enough time to have a slow, meaningful conversation rather than rushing through it.
- Triggers: What might trigger me in an emotional conversation? Preparing for this in advance will help you remain calm and engaged in the conversation.
These questions help you prepare by becoming more self-aware, a key element of emotional intelligence and strong communication.
Removing Distractions and Listening Blocks
Once you are in conversation with someone, the next step is to remove all distractions. Here’s the thing: we all think we can multitask, but we can’t. Multitasking is dividing your attention and giving neither task the attention it deserves. Remove distractions by:
- Putting your phone away (not just on silent! Put it in a drawer or your bag).
- Moving to a quiet, private area.
- Pulling your chair out from around the desk, away from your computer.
It’s also important to use non-verbal attention cues, such as body language and eye contact to show that you are present in the conversation.
Finally, consider potential listening blocks. These are patterns that we fall into that get in the way of being fully present. Some examples of listening blocks are:
- Rehearsing the answer that you want to give rather than listening.
- Trying to “win” the argument or conversation, rather than being curious.
- Wanting to placate, smooth-over, or give-in during a tense or difficult conversation.
When you are aware of these patterns or habits, you can ensure they don’t pull you away from listening with curiosity and engaging in the present conversation. Again, this type of self-awareness shows your emotional intelligence and ability to overcome your own biases and roadblocks.
When you are in the middle of a conversation, make sure to use effective listening techniques. The first one is to use silence. Letting someone else speak and truly listening to them is the best way to be engaged in a conversation. Two other valuable listening techniques include:
- Embrace curiosity. Always approach a conversation with true curiosity. This helps you avoid leaping to conclusions and remain present to what they are saying.
- Ask open-ended questions. The three simple words of “tell me more” is an amazing way for people to open up and share with you. Make sure your questions open conversation rather than close it by being too simplistic.
Effective communication is a fundamental quality of emotional intelligence. And when it comes to our daily conversations, learning to be present in a conversation is of the utmost importance. Buck the current trends of distracted, multi-tasking conversations and learn to be truly present. It not only builds your emotional intelligence, but it leads to stronger relationships and better outcomes.
For this week’s EQ workout, I invite you to begin to become more aware of how present you are in conversations. Do you notice any patterns? Are there certain people you find it easier to listen to than others? What is one step you could do to help you be more present in the conversations you will have today? What might improve your listening?
You may also like this YouTube video I recently recorded which explores how to be a better listener and me more present in conversations.