The greatest obstruction to hearing is the background noise in our own mind.
I have a friend that goes off anytime someone starts a conversation about the weather. I get his point–unless there is an imminent threat of some serious weather, that person is simple prattling on about environmental conditions we are all aware of. “Not much to offer”, as my friend would say. I’m starting to feel the same way when people say that they’re “busy,” not just because it has become such a ubiquitous response but because of what it says about our capacity to listen.
We are all busy. Well, most of us reading (and writing) this blog are. As it turns out, industrialized societies actually work less now than we did even as recently as the 1980’s, but that increase in leisure time is not consistent across all demographics, however. While those with higher incomes and post graduate degrees have less leisure time, those with lower incomes and less education actually have more leisure time.
(Lest you take a “woe is me” tone from this information, I’ll mention that work hours for married women are the worst. They’ve tripled since 1950. Don’t believe it? Try Google-ing, “How long to go back to…”. Three of the top five are “…back to work” from “C-Section,” “Breast Augmentation,” and “Normal Pregnancy”.)
So, why does this matter? When we are busy we do not listen. We may hear, but we don’t stop and listen without some other conversation going on in our minds. How does this affect our business lives?
- You have to stop thinking about your ideas in order to take on someone else’s. How many times have you heard a conversation around your office that included the phrase, “I told you about that when we discussed…”? Someone does not have to be above you on the corporate ladder to have a good idea. In fact, they might even be your client! I’m starting to wonder if I could actually accomplish more if I spent less time multitasking and putting out fires, many of which I am convinced were caused by people who weren’t fully involved in meetings because they were multitasking.
- It’s hard to solve a problem if you don’t know that it exists. If you talk with someone long enough the will begin to tell you their problems. However, if you don’t seem helpful or at the very least empathetic, it may not last long. On the surface most of us consider that to be a good thing. However, in our business a problem is an opportunity to provide a solution. I know a lot about surveying and scanning and modeling. I don’t know a lot about the industrial environments in which I do those things. The more I learn about the systems and actions in place the better chance I have of integrating into those systems. That’s hard to do if you are so involved in the task at hand (scanning, thinking of how to sell a particular service, deciding what to do first when you leave, etc.) keeps you from listening to your client.
- Do you think your clients are listening to you? At times it seems like we are all in a contest with each other to see who is the busiest. If your client starts out with the “I’m so busy” line, take a minute to think of how you act when you say that to people. Does it help you listen or make you think of all the ways that you are busy? I’d guess it’s the latter. It’s probably the same with your client. If you know they are probably not listening I’d suggest letting them know. At the very least, let them know that you are there to help them so they don’t feel so busy.
Remember a, “How can I help?” will get you a lot further than an, “I’m busy too”.