Do you remember the little plastic animals, usually dogs, that people used to place in the back windows of their cars? These plastic pooches would nod their heads as the car moved, giving the impression that they were looking around. Sadly, I see this plastic behavior sometimes taking place in meetings I attend. Someone is presenting an idea, a report, training or just carrying on conversation, and some of the people around are making appropriate nods and noises, but their follow-up conversation and engagement belies their inattentiveness. Even if they ARE listening, they don’t hear what is being said.
It seems that many of us listen the same way we scan web sites or glance at brochure. We look for key words or an exciting graphic, read a sentence or two and then move on. In listening, this shows up as mentally flagging a word or phrase upon which you have opinion or an ongoing point to make, which means you are not really paying attention to the meaning behind the communication. Any number of studies have shown that a high percentage of us spend our time in conversations concocting a snappy answer, preferably at the very point the person finishes speaking…and even before, via interruption. We seem unable to quiet the voice (or voices…) in our heads so we can actually hear the voice and intent of the other person. Listening with the goal of understanding and not in order to deliver a clever crushing reply, is becoming a scarcity.
Getting a point across in any conversation requires a degree of trust. Just try walking up to a group at a meet-up or party and announcing your opinion about the topic of conversation. Even if you know the people in the group, you’re likely to met with some odd looks if not outright disdain. Why? You spent no time building some credibility with the group. As I said, even if you know them, you should spend some time with the group and following their discussion before you add an opinion or thought. This time spent is not “marching in place”, either. You must hear what is being discussed with the goal of gaining some understanding. Then, after some consideration, you may have something to add to the conversation that is of real value.
This holds for all conversations, on-line and off-line. While the channel and tools to communicate may differ, the need to hear, understand, and build trust and relationships remains. To paraphrase, hear others as you wish to be heard.