What do you see in the picture above? One person, let’s call him Scott, is thinking about his pending project while his friend (Tim) is telling him something. Finally, his friend asks a question which would had required Scott to pay attention before, to know what the question is related to.
At this point, Scott has three options, none of which would leave a favorable impression to Tim:
1. Admit to Tim he wasn’t paying attention and ask him to repeat. Or ask a few questions to clarify, which would also make his friend repeat what he’s just said.
2. Make up a lie and say he’s not available, even though he doesn’t really know what he is turning down or when.
3. No answer, change the subject. Awkward moment.
I’m sure you all have been on both sides of the example above. I have. Not a very comfortable position to be in, right?
In our speeding society, we seem to consider multitasking will make us faster. It won’t, or it will at the expense of quality. Human mind is not capable to multitask several processes all requiring our attention. If you know how Windows works, you know it can’t really multitask either.
We can do more things at once, if only one of them requires our attention. For instance we can talk and walk at the same time. Because walking is almost automatic and we don’t give it any thought. We can’t listen to a podcast and answer an email at the same time though. Because both processes require our attention.
It’s the same in our example above. We can’t both listen to someone and think of a different thing at once.
Let’s see if another situation is familiar to you. You are listening to someone and at some point, there’s a break and you’d like to pick up and continue with a question or a remark. The other person only listens to your first few words then interrupts you. Even if he answers, was he really listening? Did he understand what you wanted to say? Most likely not, or not completely.
And finally, we’ve all written support tickets for the products we use, right? And the support we receive can be anywhere between lamentable and extraordinary. An extraordinary support team will fix your problem promptly, and may even suggest related improvements you haven’t thought of.
A lamentable support is one that responds late, or in reasonable time but only to ask what problem are you experiencing (without reading your ticket I suppose). Optionally, they will send you from one person to another, all asking for the details you already gave. And to top it off, make it so difficult for you to get help, that you give up entirely (perhaps on the product too?).
Now, I realize support teams are usually overwhelmed, and they are only the interface with customers, not the ones making things happen. But what if they listened first, and listen with the intent to understand, and only then answer or send it to the appropriate person to handle it and answer when it’s fixed. Wouldn’t that skip a few steps and leave the customer happy at the same time?
If you want to know more about listening with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply, I would highly recommend you Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habbits of Highly Effective People. This is an evergreen book, and not one that you would normally read in a day or week-end.