Friday night meetup mixer. You’re standing there, surrounded by other entrepreneurs who want to make new connections too. There’s a drink in your hand, which is great because it makes you look a lot more confident than you feel right about now. Small victories, amirite?
As you gaze around the room, you see Leslie, whom you recently met at a conference a few weeks ago. I should go talk to her, you think to yourself, so you muster up courage and head on over.
“Hey Leslie, long time no see! How have you been?” Leslie smiles and the chat begins. This isn’t so bad, you think to yourself. Why was I freaking out about this? She’s totally awesome.
But then. Then it begins.
The brain that normally helps you make dinner, pick out new shoes, or remember where you put your phone suddenly turns on you. Instead of chilling out, listening to Leslie, and giving you responses, it launches into the most spastic, out of control inner monologue of all time.
She’s so put together and clever. I wish sounded like that.
Compared to her, I sound like an idiot.
OMG, does she think I’m an idiot?
She just laughed. Is she laughing at me?
Am I talking too much? Maybe I should let her talk more.
But what if she thinks I’m dumb because I’m not saying enough?
Someone waved to her and she waved back. Does that mean she’s bored with me?!?
She probably thinks this is a waste of her time.
I’m the worst! I. WANT. TO. DIE.
WHY DO I COME TO THESE THINGS?!?
I’m a disaster. Let’s just end this and walk away.
Overanalyzing is the worst, but I don’t have to tell you that. Instead of being able to use your brain to engage in a genuine, meaningful way, you end up spiraling into a black hole that would drive anyone insane. Reading way too much into what people say, desperately wondering what they’re thinking of you, and constantly convincing yourself that you’re a blubbering idiot is just the start of your inner hell.
Why can’t you get your brain to shut up and let you have a normal conversation?!
The success of you and your brand depends on the crucial ability to build strong, genuine relationships with others. Engaging in conversation is the gateway to forming new connections, but overthinking majorly gets in the way.
I’m here to tell you there is hope. You don’t have to be a slave to your runaway brain anymore.
The key to this nirvana is active listening.
I’m going to walk you through how to use active listening to focus your energy and attention on the person you’re talking to, instead of internally obsessing over your own moves.
- why active listening is crucial to helping your brain relax and how it makes you memorable
- the difference between “hearing” and “active listening”
- establishing a healthy mindset for conversation
- how to embrace silence and not only learn from it, but how to use it to your advantage
- what you should be focusing on in the conversation
- the boundaries to set for your brain so that it’s working for you and not against you
- everything you need to understand and apply the main channels of active listening
- how to navigate the awkward moments when they come
Finally, I’ll wrap it all up by showing you how active listening will set you on the fast track to success, both relationally and professionally. Active listening really will change your life!
This extensive guide is jam-packed with guidance to help you to break the cycle of overanalyzing. Participating in conversations without your brain running you ragged is in your future, and I’m so excited to help you get there.
Let’s get started!
Why Active Listening is Crucial
The benefits of active listening are many, but there are two main reasons that tower above the rest. Being aware of how you can use active listening as a tool will help you apply it more precisely, and your results will be exponentially greater because of it!
#1. It’s a powerful tool to combat anxiety
Anxiety is like a tornado in your brain. It starts as a little fleeting thought that quickly spirals out of control, creating a stressful disaster that destroys all rational thought or behavior. Once this cycle begins, anxiety leads to over analyzing, because your brain is desperately trying to rationalize your anxiety while searching for a way to calm you down. Talk about massive overload. Totally what you need, right?
Your brain is like a crazy, hyperactive toddler. Give it a job to do and it’ll calm down and leave you alone so you can pour yourself some wine and get back to running the world.
The key is knowing what job to give it, when to do so, and how to work with your brain to have relaxed, authentic, real conversations that build connections that bring success.
That job? You got it – active listening.
#2. It makes you memorable.
Who likes being around someone who only kinda listens to or cares about what you’re saying? Let’s be real – no one. Pouring yourself into active listening not only gives you access to a deeper understanding of someone, it allows you to powerfully impact them in an amazing way.
Instead of opening up to you, hoping you’re paying attention, your conversation partner feels truly heard, understood, and massively valued. Feeling that way puts them at ease and gives them confidence to be themselves, which allows them to safely open up and connect more deeply with you. And when you know people feel happy and comfortable around you, it massively lowers anxiety, the source of your overthinking.
People gravitate towards those who build them up, make them feel valued, and really hear, understand and participate in what they’re saying. Become a master active listener and not only will people start seeking you out, your network of genuine connections will practically grow itself!
Hearing vs. Active Listening
Hearing and active listening are two very different things. Hearing refers to whatever words hit your ear. Active listening, on the other hand, means using your brain to intelligently think about, understand, and participate in what someone is sharing with you. Huge difference!
Don’t just listen to respond – listen to share in their experiences! This builds trust, camaraderie and friendship. Sharing in experiences also helps you feel less alone in the conversation, which helps with anxiety and overanalyzing.
Mindset – The First Step in Ending Overanalyzation
If the way you approach conversation is flawed, it’s all downhill from there.
Let go of the impossible goal of conversational perfection. No one, not even the smoothest chatter you know, says the perfect thing every time. You may think they do, but in reality they just know how to harness the mess ups to make powerful connection magic (more on this later).
Conversations aren’t perfect, and that’s what makes them real.
If people wanted a fake, uber-constructed mechanical experience, they’d just sit at home and chat with Siri. (No offence, Siri. We love you, girl.) We want to connect with real people because we long to know we’re not alone in what makes us human.
Imperfections don’t have to alienate us, they can unite us instead! Shifting our mindset and approach to connecting without striving for perfection takes the pressure off our brains so we can relax and just be ourselves. #yesplease
Silence Isn’t Deadly
As an over analyzer, silence can send you into a tailspin. But instead of being a conversational death sentence, silence is actually a powerful clue that can help you more deeply understand the person you’re talking to. You don’t have to be afraid of or constantly try to avoid silence anymore – now it can empower you!
Decoding Silence & Making It Work For You
While silence happens for many different reasons, there are a few consistent causes. Once you’ve uncovered why someone has turned down the volume, it’s much easier to harness that power to turn the conversation around! Knowing how to recognize and react to silence in a healthy way will greatly calm your hyperactive brain.
#1. They’re shy.
This type of silence usually happens in the early stages of a conversation. You can tell this is the cause because their silence doesn’t seem to be prompted by any specific question or action. It’s more of a general behavior/atmosphere.
#2. You’re dominating the conversation.
If someone is talking too much, it’s often easier for the other person to simply stop trying to participate in the conversation. If you notice someone’s shut up shop, take a quick survey of the conversational balance. Have you been rambling on and on? Time to take it down a notch and directly engage them with a question and give them space to breathe and contribute!
#3. They’re uncomfortable/embarrassed.
When someone feels out of their comfort zone, silence can feel like a safe place to hide. If you sense that this is the case, bring the conversation to them. If the topic sparked this response, be gracious and shift to something where they can proudly contribute.
Easing embarrassment by identifying with that emotion yourself is another way to genuinely connect. If the embarrassment is obvious, commiserate by sharing how you’ve felt that way too in another situation. If you sense a more private, subtle embarrassment, don’t call it out. Instead, kindly shift to a new topic.
#4. You’ve said something at an inappropriate time.
Not paying attention to the flow of conversation can lead to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. If you’ve tossed a comment out there that wasn’t received well, the other person will often use silence as a go-to passive tactic to let you know. Tuning into that right away allows you to recover faster by getting back on track. More on this in a bit!
#5. They’re using silence to make a point.
Sometimes silence has nothing to do with a faux pas. Pausing for dramatic effect or to let something sink in is a powerful conversational tool. This kind of silence usually happens after a large revelation or during the telling of a funny story or joke. These kinds of pauses add dimension and flavor to stories, so embrace them!
#6. They are not sure what to say next
Not all conversations are winners. Sometimes you just reach the end and there’s nothing left to say, and that’s when this type of silence usually pops up. The conversational credits are rolling, but don’t freak out! It doesn’t mean either of you did something wrong, it’s just time to dive into another topic.
Using Active Listening to Stop Overanalyzing
Now that we’ve established what not to stress about, it’s time to learn how to better spend your energy! There are two main ways to calm down your brain. When you master them, YOU will control the situation, not your runaway brain.
#1. Focus Your Attention
Cut off the energy that’s fueling over analyzation by investing it in active listening instead. This helps you to stop obsessing over how you’re coming across or your next move. Quit focusing on yourself, that’s the other person’s job!
Pour yourself into engaging with the other person. Lean on the skills you’ll learn here, put them into practice, and then let it be. Trust yourself. You’re a big girl, you don’t need to go all helicopter parent on yourself.
#2. Create Boundaries For Your Brain
Instead of letting your brain run around like a spastic toddler, give it boundaries by focusing on your roles. You have 3 roles in a conversation: Host, Detective, and Storyteller.
Think of the conversation as a little party and yourself as the host. A great host puts their guests at ease and make them feel valued! This is your goal!
Everything from your body language to your word choice and the topics of conversation you introduce should welcome them into connecting deeper with you. Make them feel comfortable, honor and respect who they are, and meet them where they’re at.
Look for ways to include them in the direction of conversation, but don’t be afraid to graciously lead when necessary. Excellent hosts know when the party needs a little guidance, but also when to sit back and let the guests enjoy themselves organically!
If your energy is focused on hosting your little party, you’ll be much less likely to obsessed about yourself.
Being inquisitive is a great tool that not only helps you learn more about someone, but lets you propel the conversation forward in an interesting way.
Start by asking thoughtful questions. What can you learn about them, their interests, passions, and hopes? As they start to open up, pay close attention to their responses. Tuning into emotions expressed through vocal cues or body language will tell you loads about how someone truly feels about something!
When feeling things out and trying to land on a topic to go deeper on, be on the lookout for a “passion response.” A passion response is an indicator that the topic you’re on excites them. Does their face light up? Does their voice get excited? Is their body language animated as they share? These are all signs you’ve landed on a topic that will make for great conversation!
A passion response eases anxiety and over analyzation by telling your brain, “Hey, the other person is happy and relaxed. Don’t stress. Just enjoy the chat!” Ummm, yes please, we’ll take some of that!
As you learn more, build on it by incorporating those interests into your chat. This sparks a sense of camaraderie – great for powerful, genuine connection!
A true conversation isn’t just two people spewing random comments back and forth. You’re both working together to build an experience that is unique to you both and tells a story in that moment in time.
How can you use what’s being shared to build a great conversation and connection?
As a conversationalist, you are creating a story as you share back and forth. Remember that “build-a-story” game you played as a kid? Everyone would go around and add a word or two, and as you went the story would grow. A good conversation is like that. No one person should write the whole story, it should be an experience you both share!
One of the best ways to actively involve someone is to use active listening to build conversational momentum. Being able to hear your next comment in their replies is the key to never running out of things to say!
Let’s say I’m chatting with my new friend Nadia. It might go something like this.
ME (saying): Hey, I saw on Facebook that you went skydiving last week. That’s so cool, how was it?
NADIA: It was super scary but totally worth it. My brother’s been trying to get me to go forever, and I finally said yes!
ME (thinking): Hmm, she didn’t want to go at first, that’s something to go deeper on.
ME (saying): What was holding you back from trying it?
NADIA: Well, I’m terrified of heights, but I’ve been trying to do more things that push me out of my comfort zone lately, so when he asked me last week, I was like, “let’s just go tomorrow!”
ME (thinking): She’s trying new things, that’s awesome. Let’s go deeper on that.
ME (saying): Wow, good for you!! That’s so brave! I’ve been wanting to push myself like that too. Cooking is really intimidating to me, so I recently took a cooking class, and I’m so glad I did. I learned a ton! What other things have you tried that were new?
See how that works? Everything they say is an opportunity to go deeper and even little things can be used to create new dimension and connection. You just need to practice actively listening for them!
Remember, staying in the moment and actually listening to what they’re saying is key to interrupting overanalyzation. If you’re planning out what you’re going to say next in your head, you’re not actually listening! Don’t get caught up in trying to create the perfect plot twist for your story, let it happen naturally. If it’s organic to the flow, the other person will be able to invest just as much as you, and that’s what builds connection.
3 Roles, 1 You
Host, Detective, and Storyteller. Depending on the conversation and who you’re talking to, these may look slightly different, but the key is to execute them in a way that’s genuine to you. Implementing these roles will not only help stop you from overanalyzing, they’ll transform you into someone people crave connection with.
Active Listening Using Body Language
Body language is a crucial tool when it comes to active listening.
Physical behavior is powerfully effective in understanding what someone is thinking or feeling in the moment. Words communicate what a person wants us to know, but the body communicates how someone truly feels. Knowing how to use this information allows you to listen to and connect with someone on a very deep level, and when you know you’re connecting, your brain can relax!
There are three main channels for reading body language.
It sounds majorly cheesy, but the eyes really are windows to the soul. They can reveal in a fleeting moment emotions that no one can hide.
When you’re talking with someone, pay attention to their eyes. For example, if you’re sharing a story and the listener’s eyes are wandering around the room, looking at the floor, or dully staring at you with a spaced out look, they’re telling you that you’ve lost their interest.
Maybe you ask them a question about their child or pet, and instantly their eyes light up as they start to share. This is a huge sign that the person is engaged, excited and genuinely connecting with you!
Reading eyes takes practice, but mastering it gives you an incredible advantage into the world of genuine connection.
Closely tied to eye contact, facial expressions are key to feeling out how someone is responding to you.
When you’re chatting, is the other person’s face participating in the conversation? Expressions that change appropriately with the emotions/topics being shared is proof that someone is diving into the moment. That’s a great sign!
If your partner’s face seems frozen in time, don’t freak. Use this as a prompt to either shift to a new topic that may interest them more, or take the opportunity to actively incorporate them more into the conversation. Asking direct questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response will greatly help in coaxing them out from behind that face!
How a person positions their body indicates their comfort level. Don’t ignore this!
If a person is uncomfortable, bored, or anxious, their body language will tell you so. Are they leaning away from you, slightly or very obviously? Instead of facing you, is their body pointed off into the distance? These are all signs that your conversation partner isn’t actively engaged with you.
On the other hand, positioning their body to face you, leaning in slightly occasionally, and keeping their head/face focused in your direction are all strong evidence that they’re giving you their full attention and respect. This is a great foundation for genuine connection!
Body language isn’t all about them, though – maximize your own body language! Using your body in a powerful way allows you to build strong relationships in ways you never thought possible.
Active Listening Using Vocal Cues
Vocal cues are like the dashboard of a car. The way someone uses their voice can tell you a lot about what’s dancing just below the surface!
Be aware of the volume, speed and tone of the person’s voice. Are they mumbling quietly, or speaking at a rapid, frantic pace? Uh oh! Time to switch things up, try a new topic or engage in a different way. Your partner could be disinterested, uncomfortable, or nervous. The rerouting tactics we applied to reading body language can be used here too, so jump in and use your new skills to turn the conversation around!
Clear speech, enunciation and and even speeds are all indicators that someone is tuned into what’s appropriate for the environment you’re in and the conversation topic. This shows they’re paying attention and actively engaging with you, and that’s a great sign!
Dealing With Awkward Moments
Calm down, this isn’t the end of the world (even though it totally feels like it).
To grow genuine relationships, you have to have genuine experiences with people, and to do that, you need to participate in genuine conversations! (Noticing a theme here? Anybody?)
Boldly own what makes you unique, and you’ll be amazed at how empowering it is. Not only will it make you feel at home in your own skin, it’s extremely attractive to others. It seems counterintuitive, but imperfections are what put people at ease and bring us together. Genuineness attracts genuineness, and when people see you as a safe place to be real, they won’t be able to hang out with you fast enough!
“But Hannah, you have no idea. I say the dumbest stuff. I’m awkward. There’s no way I can rock a convo.”
Listen up, it’s truth bomb time. Everyone says weird, random stuff at some point. We’re human, that’s how life works. The key is to just go with it. Embracing your imperfections, whether it’s a dumb comment or a stray fart (come on now, I’m not the only one), is the secret to saving awkward moments, making them work for you, and stopping your brain from diving into overdrive.
Don’t freak – it’s actually waaayy simpler than you think.
Active Listening Will Change Your Life
No, I’m not being overly dramatic – active listening really is a game changer.
Employing active listening is critical to halting your overactive brain and calming your anxiety. By focusing all your energy on truly understanding the other person, you cut off the energy supply that’s fueling your inner freak out. Now you can focus on what’s actually happening, instead of obsessing over what your brain thinks might be going on.
Not only that, but being an active listener builds strong, genuine relationships. Truly listening, understanding, and participating in what someone shares with you directly impacts their impression of you. Because they feel valued, respected, built up and invested in when they are around you, you can count on them to repeatedly come back for more. Why wouldn’t they?!
You’ll quickly gain a reputation as one who makes those around them the best they can be. Genuineness and true value are like magnets that draw in people of the highest quality. This grows your network, builds your brand, and skyrockets your success.
Choosing to dive in, provide value, and champion someone else without a sneaky agenda is an integrity-packed move that will make you stand out a mile away. People recognize true connection when they experience it, and you’ll beat out the desperate, sleazy wannapreneurs every time.
When you commit to being an active listener, you not only increase your own value as a connection, but you positively influence those around you in a powerful way that they’ll never forget!
Need more help?
Want to become a conversation master? I’ve got you covered, and it won’t cost you a cent. Seriously, it’s on me. 😉
In The Female Entrepreneur’s Ultimate Guide to Small Talk, I walk you through every stage of small talk, step by step. Covering everything from walking in the door to what to do after you leave, it’s full of detailed explanations, real-world examples, tips, scripts and prompts. This exclusive 36-page guide is your ticket to building real, powerful connections, and it’s designed specifically for you – the female entrepreneur!
Download it FREE and start making waves, girl. You got this.