How to Listen in an Age of EXTERNAL Distractions

| | Personal Leadership
How to Listen in an Age of External Distractions

Our current place in history has been referred to as the attention deficit age, and it’s no wonder. Everything keeps moving faster and faster. We are all so busy: there are so many things we need to do, and many more things going on around us all at once.

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, not 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.

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

You have no control over the speaker — not their speed of speech, their volume, or 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 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!

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:

“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 our distractions become.

Instead of trying not to let your attention drift away from the speaker, acknowledge those distractions 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.

Mindfully set yourself up to succeed by minimizing the potential for distractions.

This includes things like putting your phone on silent, or even turning it off 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 face this challenge? If so, what has worked for you?


P.S.  I tried an experiment 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?


Image Copyright: arkela / 123rf.com


Enter A Comment

Lola Mitchell   |   25 July 2017   |   Reply

Thank you Susan. Even though I retired when my husband died in 2014, I still try to keep up with my profession and even more with family. Believe it or not my biggest distraction sometimes can be my hearing aids. In person or on the phone, just can’t quite catch a word or words. I ask friends to spell it “muenster” cheese, ha, ha. I ask business reps of companies I have to call to PLEASE talk louder and MORE SLOWLY as my hearing aids don’t always work as well over the phone. And yes, it has a Program for “Phone Use” but not much use!!
Thank you again and keep up your Great Work, Lola Mitchell

Susan Mazza   |   29 July 2017   |   Reply

Great way to be responsible for your listening challenge Lola!

Mino F Akhtar   |   25 July 2017   |   Reply

Hi Susan, great topic and good advice…what works for me is to set an intention that this is one moment with this person that will never come back- it is too precious to be distracted, and when I set that intention, I find everything else melts away. I call it a form of “full presence” which does take practice, and constant vigilance, but it is who I am now…thanks!

Susan Mazza   |   29 July 2017   |   Reply

Awesome intention Mino! Thanks for offering this practice.

Chery Gegelman   |   27 July 2017   |   Reply

I love that you asked what our listening challenge is. I do better face to face and in meetings.

And see great wisdom in you offering your articles in different formats because people have different preferred learning styles.

I have found that my focus challenge is trying to read a book on an iPad. Since that is my Social Media Device – my brain wants to check Social Media feeds instead of reading. So I am much better with a real book!

Susan Mazza   |   29 July 2017   |   Reply

Thanks Chery! That’s why I use a kindle, and I love my paper white – easier to read for long periods on my eyes and does not have the social media temptation.

TPM for Netsuite   |   31 July 2017   |   Reply

Nice inspirational article, really its a problem facing by everyone knowingly or unknowingly, having problem with Managing the trade of your company check out the Website i-tpm, its Integrated Trade Promotion Management, thank you.