How often have you heard that? Probably a lot as a kid. You may say it to your own kids. Paying attention to someone who is speaking shows respect for the person and demonstrates a level of professionalism for ourselves. It's an act of courtesy and consideration.
So why don't we do it more often?
According to William James, the father of American psychology, the mind can hold a single thought for about four seconds. It's no wonder our attention wanders.
I think most of us have been guilty of answering phone calls while typing or checking email. Most of the time we are bombarded by conflicting priorities and demands on our time, so we only half-listen because we often are "multitasking." However, recent research has shown that we really aren't multitasking. In fact, we are serial tasking--our attention is flipping back and forth from one task to another and is fractured. There is a real possibility we will miss critical information or make mistakes in one or more of the tasks.
This happened to me several years ago with serious consequences. A colleague apparently misheard something I said. I wasn't paying attention because I was busy with something else while talking, and I didn't ensure understanding. After the call, she repeated what she thought I had said to others without clarifying whether she had heard correctly. By the time I discovered this, my client relationship with her firm had been damaged, and it was too late to try and rectify the situation. I lost a business opportunity because neither of us had paid attention to the conversation, nor had we ensured understanding.
Paying attention requires us to focus--focus on the entire experience of the conversation. We listen to the words and how they are spoken. We observe body language and what it means to understanding. We strive to understand what is left unsaid. We have to pay attention for true communication to occur.
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