Friday, April 14, 2006

Giving your Undivided Attention

People listening too little is a BIG problem. And, based on a Harvard Business Review article written in 1957 by Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens, called "Listening to People," this is nothing new. Think about that - poor listening has been a pressing business problem for 50 years!

The authors do what I think is an excellent job of explaining the complexities of the listening process:

"The newspapers reported not too long ago, that a church was torn down in Europe and shipped stone by stone to America, where it was assembled in its original form. The moving of the church is analogous to what happens when a person speaks and is understood by a listener. The talker has a thought. To transmit his thought, he takes it apart by putting it into words. The words, sent through the air to the listener, must then be mentally reassembled into the original thought if they are to be thoroughly understood. But most people do not know what to listen for, and so cannot reconstruct the thought."
Part of the problem is that we are able to think far faster than people can speak. So, when someone's talking to us our mind has plenty of spare time for "mental sidetracks." At first, we can drift off and come back without missing much content. But, as our mind continues to focus on other, more complex, sidetracks we soon lose track of what is being said. Countless messages are lost (or misunderstood) every single day because we basically forget to actually listen while where listening.

That's one of the reasons why, when I was in charge of telecommunications at Chicago Mercantile Exchange, I had staff wear badges that said: "You have my Undivided Attention." I wanted us all to remember to focus our listening on ... listening.

How well do you listen? What would help you give more people your Undivided Attention? What might you try?

Thanks, LK.

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