Mastering the art of listening

John Parker
John Parker

The average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 down to eight seconds in 2013, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

That’s one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. Goldfish have a whopping attention span of nine seconds!

Is this true? I don’t know. I’m not a goldfish. They look like they are listening longer.  Their eyes are open, and they seem to be attentive but so do some humans.

Let’s clap our fins in favor of talking less, not rambling, and not over-explaining. Let’s start our tale closer to the punchline instead telling our life story once again.  Let’s zip it and avoid being sent to On and On Anonymous.

If you do have an important talk, please make it concise, clear and interesting. Then go to questions. If you don’t have a great talk, just go straight to questions. Your listeners will love you for it.

We interrupt this message!

Next time you are interrupted, don’t say, “Excuse me. Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?”

And resist saying, “You know it’s rude to keep talking while somebody’s interrupting.”

Just think them, laugh to yourself, then, join the campaign to reduce interrupting.

As a kid I remember the kitchen before Thanksgiving dinner. My mom and her three sisters would be in there talking all at once, unconcerned with being cut off, talked over and interrupted. They seemed to do just fine.

So, I grew up thinking it was normal to interrupt others, especially family members. I’m less convinced of its value nowadays.

I’ve met other nice folks who have a very hard time with interrupting and being interrupted. They lose their train of thought, get flustered and may even quit talking.

During customer service training discussions, one of my jobs is to slow down interruptions that are distracting, disregarding viewpoints or simply rude. On the other hand, there are times when some interrupting demonstrates honesty and creativity.

Still, when folks are interrupting others it may suggest that they are:

  1. Not listening to the other person.
    2. Not valuing, tolerating or validating the other person.
    3. Stuck on the talk happening in their own head.
    4. Anxious to be heard because of one fear or another.

Three ears to hear!

Everyone wants to be heard. Good listeners hear clients, customers or coworkers with three different ears.

Their first ear listens for what the other person is saying. Just listening at this level is a great step of progress for many of us.

Their second ear listens for how the other person is feeling. Having enough empathy to become aware of how someone is actually feeling goes a long way to building trust.

Their third ear listens for what the other person would like to say. Sometimes we can just ask the customer, “Is there anything else you’d like to share, ask or say?” That will give enough room for the person to share at a deeper level.

Today is the best day!

Today is the best day for customer service. This is important one. Are you here? Or, are you distracted?

Yesterday. Our service attitude may get hardened when we don’t let go of the past. We may start focusing too much about the rude customers we’ve encountered in the past. Or, we may fantasize about how good customers used to be and reject the ones we have today.

Tomorrow. Our service attitude may get hardened when we live out in the future. Anxiety and tension about our plans, hopes, demands and expectations can create strong distractions from today.

Today. It’s easy to distract from it. Paying attention to here and now is key to our success today, and with regards to both the past and the future.

Living in today is sometimes called mindfulness, attentiveness, and active listening. It takes work, but today is the day and now is the time.

Customer service experts ask, “Why do we leave Today?” And, “How can we stay in it with more mindful, active attentiveness?”

I’m glad I wrote you today! Others who may be glad I wrote are: concerned goldfish, customers who have been repeatedly interrupted and ignored, and those who wish we would hear them with all three of our customer service ears!

John Parker is the founder of Professional Development Adventures and an instructor for the UC Davis Center for Human Services. You can reach him at [email protected]


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