I Know You Hear ...


Communications - I Know You Hear Me, But Are You Listening

This post has nothing to do with storytelling techniques.

No pithy remarks about a Malcolm Gladwell essay.

Nor does it offer a fresh take on public relations or social media or how to appease the search engine gods.

The post has everything to do with communications.

Specifically, it touches on the most basic form of business communications, when one human being sits across from another human being to discuss a topic. I think it’s called a “live conversation” in today’s vernacular.

Whether it’s 10 minutes or 100 minutes, shouldn’t you focus your attention on the person across from you and really listen? And in return, might you expect the other person to do the same?

It sounds reasonable.

Yet, many – perhaps most? – don’t turn off their mobile phones during a meeting.

Each chirp or vibration triggers a downward glance, one staccato motion perfected by muscle memory, to ascertain whether the digital missive warrants an interruption.

Forget that it’s rude (though it is).

Such lack of focus prevents you from getting the most out of your conversation.

And if you’re meeting with a client, it sends the message that you’re not the priority and yes, the client should reciprocate.

When did it become a crime for a call to roll into voicemail or for a text to enjoy the comfy confines of the inbox before getting a response?

I got to thinking about this after receiving a note from one of our senior folks in China, Tom McHale, who pointed me to an NPR interview with Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and the founder of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self (sounds very Californian). Turkle recently wrote a book called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other.”

While her book and the NPR interview mainly center on kids, the concept around a “culture of distractions” holds relevance for all of us in the business world.

Shouldn’t we direct our attention on the person or people involved in the conversation at hand, which means blocking out the distractions within our control?

I swore when I was 27 I would never play the “I walked three miles in the driving rain to school” card, but I’m going to talk with colleagues about this.

Because with apologies to Ms. Turkle, “we expect more from each other.”


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  • Scott Seiden

    Totally agree here. Turning off your cell phone while in conversation should be no different than turning it off when you are driving your car. Your primary focus should be on the person or roadway in front of you. But alas, we live in a culture of instant gratification and digital device addiction…

    • hoffman

      Good hearing from you Scott. Your point on “digital device addiction” (or DDD for digital device dedication) rings true. We’ve now built into our internal training on client relations the importance of focus (which means turning off your mobile phone).


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