I’m all about listening. And I’ve found that the more I focus on it, the better I do it.
I’ve also noticed, as I’m sure you have, too, that the more gadgets we have and are paying attention to, the less attentively and effectively we listen.
It’s not uncommon for me to talk with people by phone who are doing at least one (and often more) of the following:
- Typing on their computers;
- Answering another phone;
- Texting someone else;
- Watching TV;
- Talking to someone else nearby
We have a national epidemic of inattention through multi-tasking.
Here are some things I do to improve my focus and attention when I’m listening to someone on the phone —
If I’m in my office, I will turn off my computer monitor and my cell phone. I sometimes even close my eyes while talking with someone on the phone so that I can focus strictly on what they’re saying.
I follow Harry Beckwith’s advice, and focus on the mental image I get as the person is talking. For example, a friend recently told me about a golf outing he was looking forward to, and I imagined him on the course. As Beckwith astutely observes, because we often think in images, focusing on the image we get when someone else is talking leads to better listening and follow up questions.
Also, per Beckwith, I pause one second before I respond. That lets the other person know that I am more interested in what they are saying than in what I’m about to say.
When I am at home, I turn my computer off when I’m not using it. It not only saves electricity and eliminates that annoying “buzz” that all computers make, but it lets me focus when I’m talking on the phone at my desk.
Finally, I almost never use my cell phone as the primary means to communicate with others. If I’m out and receive a call, I try to schedule a call back when I know I won’t be distracted. I do not use a cell phone in the car (Andrew Carnegie managed to amass a fortune without a cell phone) and in cases where I do want or need to talk on a cell phone, I go to the quietest place I can find.
Although you rarely see a traditional “phone booth” any more, the booth itself is something we could use again. Really.