A Failure to Listen

“What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate

Some of you might recognize this as a line from the 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke.

We all have our moments when we realize we have had a failure to communicate and we’re scratching our heads wondering, “how did this happen?”

male surfer in long shorts holding board under one arm, watching the waves

As a listener, we must give speakers our undivided attention if we are to catch the full meaning of their words and connect with them.

It takes two to miscommunicate. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how assumptions are the cause of miscommunications.   One assumption by listeners contributes to miscommunication– the assumption that what the speaker is saying is not important enough to warrant full attention.

I watch this happen nearly every day. Sometimes I’m the listener.

Communication requires that the listener invest in the conversation by focusing on the speaker, without multi-tasking by texting, greeting others who pass by, attending to email, or any of the other things that we do when we have assumed that the conversation is not worth our undivided attention.

If in fact we cannot give our undivided attention, as a listener we have the option to ask the speaker to wait for a more convenient time to talk. If that is not an option, or we fail to request the speaker wait, then we owe it to the speaker to give our full attention to the conversation. Or, we can ask permission to split our attention. “Do you mind if I finish  writing this email while you’re talking to me?” If the speaker says no, then we can choose to stop writing the email, or to ask the speaker to wait.

Yes, sometimes we need to have a conversation about when we can have a conversation.

But once we have agreed to listen, then that is what we must do. Continuing to divide our attention is a not-so-subtle way for us to say, “I am not interested in what you are saying.” Or, “Can’t you see I am doing something more important right now?”

Listeners who struggle to give others their full attention can curb their multi-tasking tendencies by establishing and maintaining eye contact with the speaker. Concentrating on what the person is saying blocks other thoughts and opens the mind to understanding the message.

When we are willing to give a speaker our undivided attention, we have two opportunities. One, we avoid the miscommunications that lead to misunderstandings. Two, we become genuine in our desire to connect with others. We can become expert at avoiding misunderstanding and expert in connecting simply by giving our undivided attention.

Lately I have been conscious of the quality of my listening. I notice when I am tempted to divide my attention and remind myself that I have chosen to have this conversation right now, or at the very least, I have chosen to not not have this conversation right now. By putting aside things that might distract me and focusing on the speaker, I have already been rewarded with some conversations that I have found more satisfying that I might have otherwise assumed.

Life Is Honest, Open and True: The next time you feel unable to focus on someone who wants to speak to you, consider whether you should set a specific future time to speak. If you agree to listen now, block out all other distractions by maintaining eye contact and concentrate  on the speaker for the duration of the conversation. Not only are you less likely to miscommunicate, you are more likely to turn a simple conversation into a real connection.

Related Posts: Changing the Conversation

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Speak-us Interrupt-us

Listening is the Secret to Your Success

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