It’s been interesting to see how a number of you have been supporting this series of posts, especially in the area of handling small-group discussions. Your feedback on social media (especially on Facebook) has been a good indicator of this site’s contribution to you and its fulfillment towards my intended purpose. So, let me take this time to thank you. I’m blessed by your encouragement!

By far, we have talked about the set-up and the way we are to frame our questions. I think it’s time to move on to the third important key to unlock an awesome discussion.

Ready?

Let’s tackle something that is subtly noted yet speaks volumes. In great teams and groups that I have observed, I think reaching a certain level of this skill is a non-negotiable factor towards the growth that these people have already enjoyed. Now, what could that be? I believe the third key is active listening.

Yes, we should listen. And yes, should be active (or proactive) about it; not passive.

This so-called “Social Media Revolution” has surely been a game-changer for virtually everything! However, not everything about social media has produced good effects. It is possible that a family sits together over a meal, yet their minds are off to somewhere else. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. Name it.

We take photos of our food and post them before we say grace! We ask the waiter who’s posted outside if there’s Wi-Fi available before we enter a restaurant. Well, I like social media, please don’t get me wrong! I just think many of us have been controlled by it, rather than us having to properly manage it.

Why do I have to mention this, anyway?

We need to learn to understand the things that vie for our attention. I just think that social media usage, if left uncontrolled, is a major culprit for this constant struggle to listen. Listening involves undivided attention.

Let’s take this scenario as an example.

You were in a restaurant with three of your friends, and you were sharing about a sensitive matter — probably, a trouble that happened at work or an issue back home.

Now, what would you truly feel if two (out of three) of your friends were all preoccupied with their phones or tablets as you talked? 

In contrast, what would you feel about that one friend who looked at you in the eye and eagerly listened? Will there be any difference?

There is, right? And I think this is one oft-neglected area that we face today. We fail to listen well.

So, what can we do to create a culture of active listening in your own group?

  1. Disconnect in order to connect. Turn your mobile devices on silent mode. As much as possible, do not even take a call — unless, it is a life-and-death situation. Learn to discern what are important and urgent. Learn to be fully present among the people that you’re with in that particular window of time.
  2. Your actions speak louder than words. Believe it or not, non-verbal communication “says” a lot! In fact, it speaks way more than what we verbalize. Our distances between one other (or proxemics), eye contact, and certain habits can either build up or distract the people in your group. In my case, I try to establish eye contact when somebody is speaking. I avoid crossing arms to convey a sense of openness. I usually flip my phone over so that I don’t see my phone screen light up whenever there are incoming messages. There could be different strokes for different folks.
  3. Encourage engagement. While I have mentioned this in the second key that I’ve written, I think it’s worth reiterating and expanding. We encourage engagement by asking follow-up questions, clarifying, affirming, diverting certain points and questions to another member of the group (especially when one or two people tend to dominate the discussion). Also, it is good to have only one talk in the group. What I mean by this is that we must agree to deal with one subject at a time, and avoid “mini-meetings” within a gathering. This is a hard practice to develop particularly for larger groups, but I believe that being fully present towards one another is key in life-giving discussions.

I pray my two cents are worth considering, and I sincerely hope that these things would help you build a sense of harmony and depth whatever the context that you and your colleagues are in.

The first is the set-up, next is to ask questions that keep ideas flowing… and now it’s time to listen.

Pay attention, my dear friend. Listen very well.