I’ve got listening skillz. If I really concentrate, exercise self-control and call on my training of long ago when I was a counselor for troubled kids… or my consultative sales training after that… or my dog behavioral therapist training after that…

OK. I should have listening skillz. Because I was really good at all of those things.

But I don’t employ my skillz nearly as often or as well as I should. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Maybe because I’m a middle child of five. Who knows. Doesn’t matter.

The point is, if I listen better, I can serve those around me better. I can help them dig deeper. I can help them listen to themselves, not me. I can truly empathize, rather than map on my own situation. Most importantly, can help them feel understood. At the same time, I can learn and understand.

So here’s what I’m doing about it:

I’m assigning myself a story-telling timeout.

For one full week,
I will not wait to share my experience.
I will not tell my own story to find common ground.
I will not explain how I know, or am good at, or am otherwise qualified to do x,y or z.
I will avoid the use of first-person personal pronouns at all costs (I, me, my, mine, we, us).

Here’s what I will do instead:

In all the moments I would usually insert a self-centered story, I’ll ask:

Talk more about…
Sounds like there’s more…
Why not?
Why is that?
Why do you think…?
Why do you suppose…?
Why is that important?
And then?
And that’s going well?
And that’s not going so well?
And that’s important to you?
That’s not what you expected?
What did you do next?
What do you intend to do next?
What would you have preferred?
What if X happens, instead?
What if you could wave a magic wand?
What if it doesn’t work?
What else?
How did that happen?
How did you fix it?
How did you manage that?
How will you change…?
You’re ready?
You don’t think that’s a good idea?
You don’t know?
Who else was there?
Who helped you with that?
Who do you think can help you?
Was that hard?
Was that what you expected?

And the only acceptable uses of personal pronouns:

How can I help?
What can I do for you?
What would you like me to do next?
I don’t know.

Wish me luck. And play along if you like!

I’ll report back on this in a week…