Attention Please

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

I’ve noticed something lately – no one seems to be listening.

During an intense bout of post-holiday travel, I encountered many customer service personnel attending to the business of planes, trains and automobiles. Despite a fair amount of cheeriness given large crowds and weather-related delays, few appeared to pay attention to the matter at hand. Many seemed lost in their thoughts as they asked me questions I had already answered.

One morning at breakfast, I was greeted by a friendly server who enthusiastically described the omelet station that was available that day. “No thank you,” I told her, and gave her my simple order. My meal arrived promptly (and correctly), and as the server sat it down in front of me, she declared: “Your omelet ma’am.”

As days went on, it became clear that the problem was widespread. And, as was the case with the server, it seemed to be driven by a bias toward the listener’s thoughts.

The topic of my work last week was how to skillfully communicate relevant information to key stakeholders. In one of the exercises, participants have to relay the details of a presentation to other participants who are not in the room during the actual presentation. Then, those listeners recount the information to the original presenter. Predictably, the facts conveyed contained errors of omission, distortion – and even addition. We all had a chuckle when two honest individuals seemingly “made up” items that weren’t even discussed. And the learning point became clear when both admitted these items were things that were “on their minds,” or things they saw as important. The head-scratcher was that their biases so powerfully hijacked their listening, that they truly thought they had heard what they wanted to hear.

Even as I sat in judgment of the poor listening I was encountering, I found myself inattentive to the matter at hand. As I was preparing for the last workshop, I was deep in thought about a briefing I needed to give a particular participant I’ll call “Georgia.” Well, wouldn’t you know, at that very moment, Georgia walked in and sat down in front of me.  I rushed over to greet her. “Hi Georgia, I was hoping you would arrive early – what a coincidence.”

Except that it was Ginny who had entered, not Georgia. I know both of them, and was immediately embarrassed by my mistake. Hijacked by my thoughts – just like everyone else I had been observing.

Whether you have an omelet bias or Georgia on your mind, consider that your interactions might be more effective if you work to stay present vs. lost in thought. The effects of not listening can range from minor annoyance to disaster. I vow to pay attention. How about you?

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

A Transformative Ear

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

I’m heading home after just completing a two-day workshop, “Strategic Coaching,” for a group of high potential, mid-level leaders at a client company. Last night at dinner I described the work to a friend. She said “Andrea, I wish I had those ‘coaching’ tools you teach. Just about everyone I know is going through some kind of transition or trauma, and it would be helpful to know how to respond to them in some way that’s effective, versus hours of endless talk that goes nowhere. We all need these tools in everyday life.”

As I thought about her very valid request, I recalled one of the curiosities of human nature. We want to lean on friends and confidantes when times are tough, but we rarely accept advice. We love to ask, and then habitually respond with all of the reason the advice won’t work.

So how do you actually influence or transform situations, instead of engaging in hours-long or months-long conversations that eventually sap your very life force?  Here are a few suggestions.

Reframe intense emotions by reflecting them.

It doesn’t work to use logic or facts to “calm” a situation when the other person is agitated and expressing feelings, especially intense feelings. I use a tool called “reflecting,” to align first:

“I hear that you’re frustrated when …”

“I can see that you feel angry when …”

These statements allow the other person to feel heard, and thus more able to hear what you have to say next. It’s counter-productive to say “I understand.” You don’t, really.

You can follow with a transition question that will enable you to re-focus the conversation:

“Can we step back and look at the situation objectively?”

“Let’s think through some possible options.”

Acknowledge positive intent.

When something another person says seems illogical or outright wrong, resist the urge to contradict. It sets up a situation much like arm wrestling — the strongest person (or the loudest) eventually wins. Instead, look for the possible positive reason he or she might have for making the seemingly illogical  statement, then acknowledge it.

“You’re a talented and compassionate person with so much to give. Do you really want to quit?”

Acknowledge a differing point of view without agreeing.

You can build confidence in your counsel without agreeing with the other person’s position. Acknowledging another’s point of view does not mean you agree with it, but it goes a long way toward creating an open ear for alternate views.

“I get that you think the best approach is to quit. Are you open to hearing my view of the situation?”