Authentic Listening

23.07.2021 |

Episode #1 of the course Mastering your conversations by John Robin


Welcome to the course!

Over the next 10 lessons, you will learn about how to master your conversations.

My name is John Robin. You likely know me well by now, since I have written eighteen Highbrow courses on topics ranging from science, math, health, fitness, wellness, meditation, longevity—the list goes on! If you took every one of my courses, your inbox would be full of daily email nuggets of wisdom for half a year.

Why am I now writing about conversations?

The truth is, I have always struggled with conversations. I have a diagnosed mental illness, part of which makes it very difficult for me to read social cues. Yet, to most who know me, they would find this fact surprising, since, aside from the occasional gaffe where you can tell my brain isn’t working quite right, I mostly present as very extroverted and engaging in conversations.

This is because I have undergone intensive training in communication—in therapy, group settings, and education—and given the importance of this skill, I’ve decided it’s time to share my toolbox with you.


Why Are Conversations Important?

Human beings are social animals. This means we thrive on relationships, and at the heart of all relationships lies communication.

A conversation is the most direct way we can communicate with others. It is the cornerstone of every relationship. Your conversation skills define you. Even if you never speak to anyone, you will be known for that, and your relationships with others will likely suffer. If you speak too much, you will be known for that as well, and many, who don’t have all day to listen to you talk about the minutiae of your life, will avoid you.

We often assume that being great at conversation is about being able to speak well. However, those who are best at conversations truly excel in their ability to listen. This allows them to connect, and develop empathy for those with whom they are conversing with.

Developing empathy is quite important, because it lets us truly relate to what the other person is feeling—be it suffering, joy, or excitement—and doing this lets us go far deeper in our conversations. Beyond empathy, genuine listening also lets us learn about others’ interests, activities, or families. It helps you get the most out of not just conversations, but the relationships that they arise from.

I have always admired my uncle, who, almost every time at Sunday breakfast, can start up a conversation with a server he’s never met before. What I’ve noticed about him, though, is that he asks questions, and listens to the answers, with genuine curiosity, only to ask further questions related to what he’s heard.

It will start with, “How was your weekend?” and end up with questions like, “Do you think you’ll do the beach trip again this summer?” At the end of it, I always ask him, “Do you know her?” And he will tell me: “I do now.”

That waitress at our breakfast table would have been a stranger in the background while my uncle and I caught up, but instead of this, I saw another human being who enjoys camping, is studying art at university, and works as a DJ once a month.

Conversations are important because they will change your outlook on life. Bad conversations can ruin your day. Good ones, on the other hand, can make your day. Through conversations you can become more empathetic, compassionate, humble, insightful, knowledgeable, and realistic.

The conversation skills we will learn in this course are not just smart one-liners or body language tricks to win favor or make you more likable. They will be skills that go much deeper than this. You will learn:

• How to be a better listener

• How to understand communication styles

• How to be better prepared in conversations

• How to navigate arguments and tough conversations

• How to be assertive


Tip of the Day

Each day, we will end with a tip to apply what we’ve learned in the lesson.

Today, let’s explore a technique that will help us become better, more authentic listeners. I learned this tip from a successful businessman nearly twenty years ago and it has been my go-to exercise ever since.

Put yourself last.

Imagine, whenever you enter a conversation, that you are the least interesting person in the room. Instead, the person you are speaking with is the most interesting person. They have so much to offer you.

They are living an entirely different life than yours, and if you’re willing to truly listen, and are genuinely curious to hear what they have to say, you will walk away from that conversation changed in a small but meaningful way.

An authentic listener is known for:

• Really listening to the speaker

• Focusing on the speaker without distractions (such as cell phones)

• Making the other person feel heard

If you can take on the mindset that you want to really get to know or understand the other person, you can tap into all these qualities. Instead of formulating what you want to say, you instead will focus on what you’re hearing, and the meaning of the other person’ words. You’ll see these words as more than words—this is the unique story of another fascinating person, who you have the opportunity to better know and understand! From this place comes that authentic curiosity that equips you with great questions to ask—these questions that arise from wanting clarification, from wanting to know more.

Whatever you think you want to say, put it on the sideline. Let these natural questions take the front seat.

This is authentic listening. Like my uncle at breakfast, you’re tapping into the true power of conversation by finding the best things to say, only after you’ve first understood—and truly cared about—what’s being said to you.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we will dig into conversation styles.


Recommended book

The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols, PhD


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