You’re chatting with a friend over coffee. You’re telling a story, and you know the other person is not listening. He’s just waiting to talk.
As you’re telling your story, he interrupts you and changes topics. He keeps talking and talking and talking.
You don’t want to grab coffee with that person again, do you?
Yet we often use this approach with our storytelling.
We often focus only on the storytelling and overlook the importance of storylistening.
The Essential Skill We Need Today
Storylistening is just as important as storytelling. When you don’t listen, you do not have empathy. You have a one-sided conversation that is rude and even a bit self-indulgent.
We all want to feel important and valued. Stories have the power to connect us. But if we aren’t listening, stories have very little impact.
Stow resident and business owner Shon Christy of Shon Christy Social says, “Attention is the most valuable currency available today. It's more valuable than money. Even more valuable than time. Attention is very limited. Think about it: we are all using screens more than ever. And many advertisers are all paying for our attention. Attention has replaced cash as the most valuable form of currency."
Shon is absolutely onto something here. Think about it: If you’re not paying attention, you simply do not engage. And if you’re telling a story without any engagement, it’s really just a form of noise. It’s a voice echoing in a canyon, and no one else can make out what is being said.
According to Psychology Today, the ability to pay attention to important things—and ignore the rest—has been a crucial survival skill throughout human history. Attention can help us focus our awareness on a particular aspect of our environment, important decisions, or the thoughts in our head.
So, how do we become better storylisteners?
1. Be Intentional
Let’s be honest, there are times that you’ll want to tune someone else out. Don’t do it. Stop yourself. Being intentional as a listener takes practice. Don’t assume you know what someone is going to say before they say it. As mentioned above, a key warning sign is when you interrupt someone else who is speaking.
Try this simple trick: Tell yourself that you’ll tell someone else about this conversation later on. This simple thought can help you become more intentional.
2. Ignore FOMO
I’m thinking this applies specifically to parties. With the holidays coming up, you might find yourself at a party and see someone you know across the room. Stay present with the person in front of you. Be intentional, and listen fully.
3. Use Questions to Craft a Story
I know this is simple, but so many people never do this. Ask a question that builds on something the other person just said. Just like in storytelling, Event A leads to Event B, which leads to Event C. Use the same principle here.
If you’re talking to someone who is involved in real estate, you could ask something like, “What is the wildest thing you’ve seen in a home?” Or maybe you want to dial things back a notch. You could ask, “What areas are best for home sales?”
Fit the question for how things are going with the conversation. Context is key.
4. Listen to What Is Not Being Said
Let’s say you go on a first date. If a person talks only about work, not relationships, there is something very important that is not being said right there. Perhaps that could even be a red flag of sorts and would be a great reason to ask a question about family or friends.
The same applies to marketing. Listen to what the customer says and does not say. Then ask appropriate questions.
In addition, body language is another key part of storylistening. Pay attention to the nonverbal signals an individual tells you. Does the person speaking have their arms crossed? Are they looking you in the eye or avoiding eye contact? Are they fidgeting? Are they answering questions thoughtfully or using one-word answers?
Your Next Step
The sooner you start storylistening, the better a storyteller you will be. To help you put storylistening into practice today, here’s an approach that works well. Anytime you see someone wearing a name tag, be sure to use that individual’s name in a sentence.
This small act of paying attention opens up the dialogue for better communication. The individual already knows you are paying attention and will be more engaged when you interact. You’re not likely going to just zone out after paying attention, right? Instead, you’ll be a better storylistener.
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”—Ernest Hemingway