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Things that mimic listening but really aren’t: “That’s just like me”

June 29th, 2010

In scholarly publishing book groups this week we’ve been discussing listening, especially the time we spend listening to someone doing a check-in for the week.  In a series of posts I’ll explore some tics from my own past — things I used to do under the guise of “listening” that were actually anything but, and that I have learned to handle better by running groups and reading books on listening.

#1 is saying “That’s just like me!” and then taking the conversation away from the speaker.  In judicious moderation it can be fine — friends find things in common all the time, and sometimes that’s how they become friends in the first place — but there is an art to using such phrases that will work better for both parties than simply chiming in.

“That’s just like me” (TJLM) is like salt — we can sprinkle it here and there, but if we’re too heavy handed then the dish becomes inedible, and quickly.  As children we were also taught to taste our food before salting it, so I would say taste (experience) the conversation before adding TJLM.  Instead of saying the line spontaneously and taking the conversation back from the speaker, we can focus on encouraging the speaker to say more… to elaborate and expand.  What usually happens is that eventually the speaker has said whatever needed to be said, and s/he indicates readiness to hear from listeners.

Then it would seem tempting to rush to TJLM right away, but pause a second.  What would happened if we kept the topic on the speaker a bit more at that point by asking questions and understanding fully?

At some point the speaker will feel done both with speaking and with answering questions.  In the context of a faculty publishing group, this will generally fall within the time limit dictated by the number of people present.  Then it is completely fine to come in with TJLM and point out what we have in common with the speaker’s experience.

This model feels wonderful to speakers, who consistently report going away from such groups feeling heard and understood.  It also feels great to listeners, who have a chance to point out shared similarities in a manner that seems like bonding and connecting rather than interrupting or taking the floor.

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