Active Listening

Can you hear me now? Yes? Good. Now listen up!

Remember back in the days before instant messenger, Blackberry text, SMS, email and the like? How did we communicate with people quickly? We TALKED to them. Whether by phone, voicemail, or a real live sit-down meeting. People used to talk and others used to listen, I mean really listen. In our day-to-day dealing with the service industry, we, as consumers seem to be both the victims and the perpetrators of ineffective verbal communications. No one speaks clearly and concisely, and no one listens.

Can’t Afford to Pay Attention
Is time worth so much money that now, we don’t have time to listen to one another? If so then why do we waste so much more time either asking for clarification or fixing errors due to miscommunication?

Let’s take an example. Ever been to the local Subway, Chipotle, or any other of those type shop where you selection is made in front of you by one of the “technicians” while you provide directions from the other side of the sneeze guard? Ever notice that sometimes they seem to be on autopilot, just putting it together the way most people order it until you say something? Guess what? They ARE on autopilot! They’re so concerned with keeping the line moving, or their own station, or plans for later that they just go into machine mode and shut down the connections from ears to brain. Notice too, when you do get their attention and deviate from the “norm” ( spinach instead of lettuce, both hot and mild peppers, you name it) how frustrated they look? Forcing that connection to work again must hurt.

Now… Now… Now… What was that?
We are getting, more and more into a culture of instant gratification. We want it and we want it now. Next day air, 30 minutes or it’s free, 90 days same as cash, now, now, now. Technology is making things go faster and, for the most part, that’s OK. My lab test results can be looked at by several experts around the world in almost real-time. My pay goes right into my bank account on payday. Niece or nephew gets that gift card just in time for a forgotten birthday. But sometimes, isn’t taking some time to do it right the first time better?

Ever gotten a phone call asking you if you’ve received an important text or email? Remember the two to three-day mail cycle? I do, and I’m not that old. Seriously, if someone sent me a memo/letter asking a question, it was already two to three days old. If he sent it on a Monday, he MIGHT get my response Friday the same week, with a courtesy (look it up if you don’t know what it means) phone call to give the answer and “Paperwork to Follow”, provided I didn’t have to get too many management signatures on it. Sometimes the need for speed is trumped by the need for understanding. Sorry Maverick. Next time Goose talked, you DID listen. Worked out pretty good eh?

Not Having to Talk to Anyone (A Shut-in’s Dream)
With all our technology it is possible to go through almost the whole day without verbally communicating with anyone and still be productive. I tried it a few days ago.

  • Woke up. Checked and answered emails and messages, notifications, etc… Need coffee
  • Breakfast, courtesy of my online grocer.
  • Checked NextBus app and caught the bus to work. While on board, read the news and FB on my mobile device.
  • At work, it’s me and the PC all day. Lunch? Went to cafeteria, paid with scanning phone. Cool!
  • On the way home, picked up a few odds and ends, automated cashier and scanned phone again.
  • Home now, Netflix, ESPN, maybe an e-book. A little Facebook to pass the time until online pizza order arrived. One last message/mail/calendar check, then bed.

Total word count (spoken) let’s say <10, I cussed out a few folks under my breath on the way home. But you get the idea, I really didn’t have to engage in a verbal conversation with anyone. Kinda sad really. I didn’t like it. There’s something about interaction with others that adds to the quality of life. However the quality of that interaction is in no way related to the quality of the information.

A Solution
Back to my point, finally. Speaking well, and listening attentively is NOT only for those trapped on either side of the podium in some lecture hall. It is just as important for the doctor/patient, home owner/handyman, boss/employee, barista/customer and, believe it or not, parent/child interaction. The number one thing is to slow down, think before you speak and take time to process what you’ve heard before reacting or speaking back. Remember though, like any other skill, it takes practice, commitment, and…









TIME – something were supposed to have more of in this modern age…

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