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Listening in the Age of Attention Deficit: Part I

| | Personal Leadership

This time in history has been referred to as the attention deficit age.

And it is no wonder.

Everything moves fast and seems to keep moving faster.  There are often so many things we need to do and so many more activities going on at once around us.

It can be quite hard to create the mental space necessary to really listen to another human being.

The mechanics of hearing sound may be simple, but keeping the concentration necessary to process meaning from words and sentences is not.

At least it isn’t for most of us.

It’s one thing to concentrate when you have enough control over your environment to keep potential distractions minimized, for example, when you are sitting alone at your computer or listening to an audio with earphones.

But when you are in a conversation it can be much harder to keep the distractions at bay.

Furthermore you have no control over the speaker – not their speed of speech, the volume, or sometimes even when they choose to speak to you or what they want to speak about.

…There is no fast forward when someone is speaking too slowly or not getting to the point.

…There is no pause button you can press on a conversation, literally anyway, so you can catch up, take notes, think about how to respond, handle the thing you just remembered, or entertain the idea that just popped into your head.

…There is no replay button to catch what you missed when you checked out because you were listening to the conversation in your head rather than what the other person was saying.

Where’s that darn remote control when you need it!

No, it is not easy to really listen, even despite our best intentions.

Distractions are plentiful, both the ones external to us and the ones going on inside of us.

When I asked: “what is your listening challenge?” on Twitter, I received quite a few responses almost immediately.  Those responses targeted the most common challenges people have in being able to listen.

Here is the first one and what you can do to overcome it.  Stay tuned for more “listening challenges” in this series on Listening in the Age of Attention Deficit.

“My listening challenge is getting distracted/hooked by what’s happening elsewhere in the room, especially noise or movement.” @bestbityet

Sometimes the harder we try not to be distracted the more intrusive the things that are distracting us become.

Instead of trying not to let your attention drift away from the speaker, acknowledge whatever is distracting you to the speaker.  It will bring your attention back to them and let them know you really want to hear what they have to say.

If that’s not enough, you may need to take action by moving to a quieter location, eliminating the distraction, setting aside another time and/or place to speak, etc.

Above all though, mindfully set yourself up to succeed by minimizing the potential for distractions.  

This includes things like putting your phone on send, turning off your cell phone and putting it out of sight, closing the door, putting away anything that is likely to capture your attention, etc.  You probably know what you need to do for you.  So just do it.  It is more important now than ever before.

What about you?  Do you have this challenge?  If so, what has worked for you? 

Stay tuned for Part II…

P.S.  I tried an experiement and recorded an audio as well.  Click Here to listen.  If you do I would love your feedback.  Would you like more short audios from Random Acts of Leadership?

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Enter A Comment

Kevin   |   27 June 2012   |   Reply

Many times if we are in a room, talking to someone and listening to their response and we have the problem of being distracted by other activities or conversations going on, is because we fall into the trap of the grass is always greener. We may have an interest in what is being said, but we cannot help being distracted because maybe the person across the room is saying something more interesting or important and we may miss it. This shows that we have a lack of respect for the original speaker and for what he or she is saying, or maybe it was not that important to begin with. What ever the case we need to control ourselves, our thoughts and not get fooled and pulled into the trap of believing something else is better, in most cases it is not.

Susan Mazza   |   28 June 2012   |   Reply

Hi Kevin – I call what you are referring to as “shiny object syndrome”. While it may be a bad habit stemming from a “grass is always greener” attitude, there are other possible factors as well. I do think it is important for us when we are speaking to not take someone elses bad habit in this regard personally. We don’t have to tolerate it either – a good opportunity to speak up.

Kevin   |   28 June 2012   |  

I know, it can be annoying when someone does it to me, and I constantly fight the urge to do it when I’m listening to someone else. For myself if find the same annoyance when say I’m talking so someone on the phone and I hear them chomping on food or paying more attention to a television show than the topic at hand.

Susan Mazza   |   28 June 2012   |  

You have me thinking…My husband has been my “coach” in learning to do one thing at a time. He is a master at it! Perhaps the thing all of us need to remember is listening is “one thing”! Thanks for engaging in the conversation here Kevin. I really appreciate it!

Kevin   |   28 June 2012   |   Reply

When I saw the title to this it really peaked my interest. Actually my ex wife always said that I was a bit ADD, I do not know, but at times my mind races around on a million things at once, until I find something that really peaks my interest then I can become completely focused on that in exclusion to everything else.

Now that I think about it, with the topic at hand, maybe it comes from a tendency, to get into conversations, just for the fact of the conversation, we may not have any real interest in what is being said, it is just a time waster until something in that conversation peaks our interest or we find what we are looking for elsewhere.

Susan Mazza   |   01 July 2012   |   Reply

Thanks for your honesty Kevin. I can relate to what you are sharing. For some focused attention is harder to give than for others. Personally, it is something I have to work really hard at as my family would attest to! Although ADD has become not just a prevalent assessment and diagnosis, but a socially acceptable excuse. Something to consider…One of the best reasons to be in any conversation may simply be to be with another human being and honor them with our listening. People yearn to be listened to and heard. I think listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give. And sometimes we really don’t have the space or desire or commitment to do so. However, pretending to listen to “waste time” as you put it has many costs, especially in our relationships and the impact we have on those around us intentionally or not.

Angela   |   29 June 2012   |   Reply

The listening challenge for me, is the “not what am i hearing but what am i processing” for instance if you do not process the whole of a sentence , maybe you miss the beginning or a couple of words in the middle, everything else is built on what has been heard which may have a different instruction or interpretation. This would all be a result of internal thoughts and processes, ie is this positive or negative etc. One way of dealing with this is to clarify by paraphrasing or directly asking you said this does it mean that, however this is not adequate if you believe you have heard correctly but actually you have not. Then sometimes there is not enough time to process what is heard, but slowing speech is not always a solution, sometimes actually reading or writing alongside what is heard helps. Where this is not possible remembering key points and following them up is the only option. This is not good in a competitive environment where speed is of the essence.

Susan Mazza   |   01 July 2012   |   Reply

Hi Angela, thanks for your comment. You point to something very important – it truly is hard to hear everything someone says, not only their words, but more importantly the message and meaning they intend to convey. We must learn to listening not only to the words, but also for the contect that both gives those words meaning in the speakers mind as well as in our interpretation of what they are saying. This is something I will address in another article in this series.

Although I will also suggest not listening well can cost much more time in the end than the time it takes to actually listen to begin with. It is easy to unwittingly sacrifice effectiveness in the name of efficiency.