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Listen up! Pay Attention. And We Mean All of Your Attention.

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

In an age of multitasking, it’s the norm for people to have entire conversations without looking at each other; one or both people talking at each other while staring at screens. We’ve learned to communicate with our attention divided. And though sometimes multitasking is crucial as a business owner, it’s important to give your full attention for things that matter – our topic for Listen Up! this week.

We live in an increasingly loud and distracting world. A generation of people have grown up never knowing a world before smartphones, where apps and platforms are designed like slot machines, constantly regurgitating content for you with a scroll of your thumb. How long can you go sitting in a room without picking up your phone?

This might seem like an obvious bit of advice but first step to active listening is: if you’re getting ready to have an important conversation, the very first thing you should do is put your phone away, and either put it out of sight, or into your pocket and on silent - not vibrate.

Remember being a kid in class and slowly getting distracting by the open window? You need to assume the role of the annoyed teacher for yourself and slam the blinds closed.

Your brain’s conditioned response to seeing your phone screen light up with a notification (We’ll come out and say it - most of them are just apps begging you to re-open them) is for your mind to immediately race to find out what the notification was. It creates an itch that you need to scratch.

The same is true for feeling your phone vibrate in your pocket. It doesn’t matter how much focused you are, there’s no way for your mind NOT to wander.

So ditch the phone.

You should also stage important conversations in a space that is distraction free. We don’t expect you to meet with clients in a grey, undecorated room without windows. But it’s probably not a good idea to have an important conversation at a bar with TVs showing your favorite team playing, or in front of a bay window.

The less places you give your mind to wander, the less places it will wander to.

Instead, focus on maintaining eye contact with the person you’re speaking with. Make a mental note of the color of their eyes. Focus on their body language. People have definitive tells in their body language when speaking, and you don’t need to be a body language expert in order to see the subtext.

The key is to be able to focus on them, and keep your mind from finding other things to think about.

This small aspect of removing potential distractions and forcing yourself to pay an extra layer of attention to the person you’re speaking with will automatically make you a more active listener. You’ll be surprised what you might pick up!

This is part of a continuing series on active listening in the workplace, titled "Listen Up!" A truly successful entrepreneur is an active listener - keep checking back each week to learn a new habit to form, and an old habit to break.

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