I have three words for your consideration: Strive for Less.

I am sure you are wondering: what in the world?  Why is a Leadership Coach suggesting that I “Strive for Less”?

Let me explain.

What I am really talking about is multitasking.  Most of us try to do it.  Most of us can’t really do it (even though we try to fool ourselves into thinking we can).  And it hurts us.  Sometimes, literally (think: distracted driver).

Let me ask you—how often do you only half-listen to your employees while reading email or scanning text messages?  How about your significant other or children—do you half-listen while watching the news or doing something else (laundry, the dishes, fixing dinner, breakfast time, etc.)?  And yes, when we are only half-listening, we are probably only half-doing those other tasks.

When we multitask, both tasks suffer.  Don’t believe me?  Have you ever put a load of laundry in while having a conversation and forgot to add the detergent?  I have.  And I had to do that load of laundry a second time.  How about putting dirty dishes away thinking you had turned the dishwasher on and then having to wash all the silverware—both what was previously clean and the dirty silverware you just put in the drawer?  Yep, I have done that too!

How many times have you not heard what someone just said and tried to either fake a response with something ‘safe’ like ‘yeah’ or ‘un huh’ or ask them to repeat what they said—“my line was breaking up”; “I could not hear you over the washing machine,” etc.  Ever been ‘called out’ on that because the other person asked you a question and you said ‘un huh’ or something else equally non-sensical as a response?

Sometimes the lines really do break up or you really can’t hear someone.  And sometimes, it is a cover for not listening.  I have done that too.

We spend a lot of our time cramming in “more” and, in my humble view, sacrificing quality of experience in exchange for quantity of experience.  (And ironically, I think it is driven by a fear of missing out.)  I do it too.  I have to regularly check my thoughts of doing more, more, more.

If you still don’t believe me—or even if you do—I invite you try an experiment.  Stop what other task(s) you are normally doing and focus completely on the next conversation someone is trying to have with you—your significant other, your employee, your boss, your child, your friend.

Listen to what they are saying.

Listen to what they are not saying.

Listen to the particular words they are choosing.

Listen to the cadence of their words.

Listen to the inflection in their words.

Listen to the emotion behind their words.

Listen to the loudness or softness of their voice, when it drops, or quivers, or changes pitch, etc.

In other words: Listen deeply.

Let their words, feelings, and emotional energy sink in.  Don’t think about what you are going to say next, just focus completely on listening.  Let your deep listening inform what you want to say or ask next—don’t plan ahead.  It may not be easy the first time you try it, but keep going—the payoff is worth it.  With practice, you will discover a richness of information previously not available to you, when you were multitasking, or planning your response (yet another form of multitasking).

After you try this experiment, reflect on the experience for a moment—what did you hear, learn, or experience that was different than “multitasking listening?”  How much more curious are you about what is going on with that person?  How much deeper and richer could your relationship be with that person if you listened like this all the time?  If this was with an employee, how much more engaged would that person be, if you listened like this all the time?

Still not convinced?

Ask the person you were talking to if they felt heard—if it was a different experience for them.  Listen deeply to their response.  Finally, share this blog with someone you trust and ask them to listen deeply to you.  What was your experience of being heard?  Was it different?  How?

What I notice is that when I slow down and listen deeply to someone else, or to myself, the relationship improves.  It has meaning to the other person and meaning to me.  I learn more; I appreciate more, and I am appreciated more.

And yes, when I listen to myself.  When I listen to my mind or body saying they are tired or overwhelmed, my relationship with myself improves.  I can laugh at myself, I can forgive myself more which, in turn, renews my capacity to forgive others.

When I do not Strive for Less, I regret not being fully present for an important conversation; I regret a pointless or hurtful argument that grew out of not listening deeply; I regret not thoughtfully considering what other people have shared with me; in short, I regret feeling that I have skimmed the surface of the richness, variety, and depth of all that life has to offer.

I wonder how many arguments and misunderstandings could be averted if we truly listened to one another.  How many of our differences might turn into similarities?  How many of our differences would we deem trivial and not worth arguing about?  How many of our differences would prove eye-opening, stimulating, enlightening?

So, I work, in my ordinary moments, to find ways to Strive for Less.  I try to decide when it’s appropriate for me to multitask and when it isn’t.  First, I try to put down my devices if I’m going to have a genuine conversation with someone else.  Our devices are so prevalent, and we are so accustomed to using them, that it can seem like they’re an extension of us—that they’re not a distraction.  But they are a distraction.

Next, I acknowledge that every time I choose not to multitask I will either do those tasks sequentially—which means expending more time—or choose not to do one of those tasks.  So, I know it can be particularly difficult to make those decisions; it takes time and energy to listen deeply.  Expending that mental energy is just like expending physical energy—you have to build in some time to recover—to recharge.

I have caught myself not listening to someone important to me because of the press of to-dos, events swirling around me, or just saying “yes” to too much.  So, I reflected on how to manage this seemingly endless stream of overwhelm and a question came to me: what if I were more selective?  What if I made a choice to do fewer things so that I could give my undivided attention to those things and people that are important to me?  What if I made a choice to do less so that I could be there more?

How does that sound to you?  Are you willing to be more selective?  Are you willing to do fewer things?  Are you willing to give someone your undivided attention?

You might be thinking, I’m willing to be more selective, but I’m not always able.  If a family member needs to be taken to the doctor, that’s not negotiable.  If an infirm friend truly needs my assistance, that’s not negotiable.  You will have your own list of non-negotiable obligations.  So, factor that in and then look at what remains of your time; how do you decide which things to sacrifice—and it may seem a sacrifice—in order to listen deeply?   In order to live deeply.

Listen to your inner voice—what has meaning for you?  Do what you need, not what you think others expect from you.  Talk to those others; tell them what you’ve been thinking and feeling; listen deeply to their responses.  Negotiate; be brave.

Life is short—Strive for Less; I know you will get more.  And I’ll do my best to “be there for you”.

Postscript

Full disclosure—I had wanted to publish this blog before the November/December holidays, in the hope that my thoughts could help you during the holiday rush.  I didn’t get this published until February—that was one of the sacrifices I had to make.  I don’t know about you, but my year started off with a bang—so it seems these thoughts can be useful at any time of year.  And hey—if you found this entry useful, it will be right here for you throughout the year and for the coming end-of-year holidays.

I’ll Be There For You (Theme from Friends) by The Rembrandts