Attention is a two way street…

January 25, 2016

From the Jack’s Winning Words blog – “You learn something every day if you pay attention.” (Ray LeBlond) A study by Microsoft (Op Ed in the NYT) shows that the average attention span is 8 seconds, down from 12 in 2000. It’s now shorter than that of a goldfish. Perhaps that’s the reason for the flash-ads. It’s a fast-paced world out there, like it or not. Messages continually bombard us…a look, a word inserted in a sentence, something not said. Today, be alert for the 8 second message. 😉 Jack

Unless you read really fast, that 8-second attention span would have gotten you through about four sentences in Jack’s post above. No wonder Twitter is so popular; it’s messages match our attention spans. In business we used to create and practice what we called our talking-2elevator pitch. That was a short message that could be delivered in the span of time that someone might spend with you on an elevator while going to work. Usually these were timed to be delivered in 15-20 seconds (maybe a little longer for a skyscraper elevator ride), and they were supposed to contain enough content to quickly get across compelling information about yourself or your product so as to elicit the response of the other party being interested enough to what to know more. It was an interesting challenge.

I would imagine that the great essayists of the founding father’s day would have made Samuel Adamsgreat bloggers, but lousy Tweeters. It would have been frustrating for them to try to squeeze their great ideas and arguments into a Tweet; however, I also suspect that they would have found a way to use and adopt the technology, as did those in most of the recent areas of citizen unrest and uprisings. Perhaps Paul Revere’s ride to Lexington would have been unnecessary if he could have just been able to Tweet that the British were coming by land.

But, I digress; knowing that those of you with short attention spans stopped reading two paragraphs ago. Fort those still reading, I might add to LeBlond’s little saying that you have to do more than just pay attention; you have to do something with what you have heard or seen. You need to figure out what it means and assimilate it into your current knowledge store. Not everything is actionable, nor does it need to be; however, anything that you take the time to pay attention to should at least be something that you learn from or which reinforces knowledge that you may already have.

There is another little saying that I’ve had lying around for some time, just waiting for the opportune time to use it. It seems somehow appropriate for this post :
“If you want me to be a good listener, give me something good to listen to.” (Unknown)

Perhaps the reason that we tune out so much of what we hear and see so quickly is that sobored much of it has become meaningless and not worthy of attention. That too may be laid at the doorstep of modern social media, where the location of a person or what they had for breakfast passes for “content”.

So, pay attention and be a good listener to day and maybe you’ll learn something; but, also be attentive to what you contribute and make it something that someone else will find worthy of listening to and from which that too will learn. Be interested in others and be interesting for others to meet. Attention is a two way street. Have a great week ahead!

Listen up people…

March 27, 2015

Today’s quote from the Jack’s Winning Words blog is -“You can’t fake listening.  It shows.”  (Raquel Welch)

A corollary to that might well be – “When you listen, do it for the sake of understanding and not just to build a reply” – as seen on various motivational sites.

The point of both is to focus upon really listening to the other person. I’m sure that mostlistener of us have faked listening to someone, perhaps our parents or a teacher or some other authority figure. They usually catch on and we get the question, “Did you hear what I just said?” Most people answer, “Yes, I heard you”; but, were they really listening to what was said or just hearing the noises that we call speech?  Most don’t appreciate how obvious their lack of attention is to the other party. It shows.

I must admit to being guilty of the second little quote more often that I’d like. It is the distraction of concentrating on a retort that causes one to interrupt the other person by starting the reply before they are finished with their initial thought. It’s rude and shows people talkinga lack of respect for them, but it happens all the time. You see this behavior a lot on TV when two or more people with differing views are placed together and asked about a topic that they disagree about. Often is just becomes a shouting match as each tries to jump in and make a point before the other has finished a thought. We have become a nation where raising the volume of out comments is somehow associated with making them more important or believable.
I’ve met a few very good listeners and it is interesting to watch them in conversational settings. Probably one of the best listeners that I’ve met is Pastor Doug McMunn of the Milford United Methodist Church. If you are ever in a conversation with him you can just see that he is listening – it’s that obvious.Just as you can tell when someone is fakinglistening it, you can also see the level of effort being put forth by a good listener to make sure that they are hearing and understanding your words and the thoughts behind them. Good listeners are almost always very good questioners, too. Since they have focused upon what was being said, they are able to pick out the points that might need clarification or expansion. Bad listeners most often miss those points and may draw bad conclusions or jump to bad decisions based upon their partial understanding of what was said (or what they think that they heard).

So, what can you do to become a better listener?

  • The most important thing, I believe is to commit that you will focus on what is being said for the time it takes; that you will not let your mind wander off into formulating your reply or your next question; but rather take in what is being said in the current moment and focus upon understanding it. One very important way to do that is to focus your eyes on the speaker. It is harder to become distracted if you are looking intently at the speaker. Don’t get creepy about it, but don’t start looking around the room at other people or things.
  • Try to pick out and organize in your mind the salient points that the speaker is trying to make. Conversational speaking almost always includes verbal fillers -“You Know” – or verbal pauses and bridges that may tend to obscure the thought that the speaker is trying to get across and sometimes it takes considerable effort to cut through that clutter to get tot eh central points that the speaker is trying to get across. Stop the speaker and ask for clarification if something that was just said doesn’t make sense to your or perhaps you just didn’t understand it.
  • Let the speaker finish their thoughts before you jump in with any reply. Most conversations have natural points at which a speaker will stop, because they have finished as are now turning the floor over to you for comments or replies. They may even provide you with the verbal clue that it is your turn to speak by asking, “What do you think?”

It’s at that point that you may need to take a few seconds to digest what they have said and formulate your reply or questions. Just that short pause to reflect on their words will let them know that you were really listening. Not all comments require a response or further questions; so saying something like, “Well I understand where you’re coming from on that and I’ll have to think about it” is as good of a reply as any. Other non-committal retorts might include “Well I didn’t realize until now that you felt that way. I’ll have to think about it” or perhaps, “I didn’t know that and I’ll have to look into it further.”  Of course there’s always the old stand-by , “Thanks for sharing that with me.”

man thinkingBeing a good listener is a commitment to discipline that you have to make for yourself. It takes discipline to stay focused, but you owe that focus to the speaker just as much as you would want them to focus upon what you might have to say. Your time and theirs are both important, so don’t waste either. Be a good listener to what they have to say and hopefully they will replay your efforts by listening well to your thoughts, too.

Have a great day and listen up people…