I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of this. The question is: are you dishing it out?
Listening in a distracted way during an important conversation. So-called “multitasking” when you really ought to be giving your full attention.
Science has shown us that we can’t actually multitask on executive function brain tasks, so let’s stop the charade and quit this nasty and increasingly common habit.
On today’s solo episode of the TalentGrow Show, I share a story from a recent workshop participant where this issue came up. Then I explain why it’s not wise to do something else that requires your thinking bandwidth during critical conversations (the kind where there’s an important outcome and your relationship is on the line). Like reading or writing emails, for example. Even if others are doing it. Even if your senior leaders do it. Don’t. Take a listen now and share with those who could also benefit!
What you’ll learn:
A true story about a recent interaction with a TalentGrow workshop participant using poor listening behavior during a role play
Examples of poor listening and why it’s important to be aware of your listening behavior, especially during those important or critical conversations.
Learner: “All of the executives in my company do this too. And we’re really good at multitasking, so it’s part of my developing leadership skills. I have to become good at multitasking.” Halelly: “Um, no.”
Why, even when you might be seeing similar examples from the role models that you’re trying to emulate, it doesn’t make it okay.
We’ve all been on the receiving end of someone who seems to be multitasking as they speak to you. How does it feel?
Mom said, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Right?
Science shows us that people are not able to multitask on executive function skills.
Switch cost is 25 to 40 percent of your productivity going to waste between trying to do two different executive function things at the same time, aka multitasking, and between working on one at a time.
You can multitask folding laundry and listening to a podcast. You can multitask listening to something important and doodling, but you cannot multitask fully focusing on listening and at the same time formulating an email message to someone on your phone. Your brain doesn’t work that way.
You won’t just create problems in the reception of the information correctly. You will also introduce problems with the impact on the relationship on the emotional, subconscious level.
You make this person feel less important than they think they should be, whether that’s your intention or not, and whether they’re consciously thinking this or not.
You damage trust and the closeness of the relationship now and for the next time you talk to this person.
When you’re listening, especially during important conversations, put the phone down and pay close attention. Make eye contact. Listen with your whole brain and your whole body. Listen!
What do you think? Have you experienced similar situations, whether on the giving or receiving end of distracted listening while ‘multitasking’? What was the impact? How do you handle this? What will you do differently going forward – what was your biggest ‘A-ha’ from this episode? Comment below!
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Ask me a question or tell me a topic that you would like me to cover in a future episode of the TalentGrow Show. I make this podcast to serve you – so please don’t be shy!
About Halelly Azulay
Have we met? I'm Halelly Azulay. I'm an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist and an expert in leadership, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. I am the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ATD Press) and Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life. My books, workshops and retreats build on my 20+ years of professional experience in communication and leadership development in corporate, government, nonprofit and academic organizations.
I am the president of TalentGrow LLC, a consulting company focused on developing leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors.
People hire me to speak at conferences and meetings and to facilitate leadership workshops, but what I love most is to help fast growing organizations create a leadership development strategy and approach.
I'm a contributing author to numerous books, articles and blogs. I was described as a “Leadership Development Guru” by TD Magazine. I blog, publish a leadership podcast (um, hello?!), and have a popular free weekly subscription newsletter – so you should definitely sign up at www.tinyurl.com/talentgrow.
Episode 123 Solo Distracted Listening
Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.
Halelly: Hey there TalentGrowers. This is Halelly Azulay. I’m your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this is episode 123 of the TalentGrow Show. A solo episode. As you know, about three times a month I do an interview with someone very interesting to help you develop your leadership communication skills, your career in general or your self leadership skills, and about once a month I do a solo episode where either I answer a question on an “Ask Halelly” episode or I share something that is usually coming straight from one of my books, one of my blog posts, one of my workshops, one of my speaking engagements to help you grow.
This example came up recently in a workshop and it’s come up lots of times in the past. It comes up everywhere. Everywhere I look I see examples of poor listening. But the problem is that when I gave some feedback to the woman in the workshop who was using this really poor listening behavior during a role play, I asked her, “Hey, are you aware of your behavior?” She said, “Yes, I am,” and I said, “It’s probably not going to work as well this way. Why don’t we try it?” I thought she was just blowing off the role play, sometimes people do that in a workshop. She said, “No, this is how the executives in my company behave and I’ve learned to do it too.”
Whoa. Definitely, definitely not okay. And I wanted to share it with you. So, I’m going to share with you what she did and why that is an example of poor listening. We’re going to talk about some other examples of poor listening and we’re going to talk about why it’s important. I hope that you are ready. Please listen to this episode. Here we go!
Here’s the scene. This is a communication skills workshop and these are high potential, aspiring leaders in a very big organization, one of the big consulting firms. These people have been targeted as future leaders of the organization and receive this additional training to help them build their communication skills and we were talking about how to have the critical conversations that are often very difficult to have, but super important. As part of the workshop, we have trios that practice role playing a future conversation so that they can practice the new skills, practice using the model that we go over in the workshop, and practice getting some feedback about their communication skills. It’s about how you have the conversation, the kinds of content that you have in the conversation, but also very important, the how. How you conduct yourself during the conversation makes a huge difference in how the information lands with the person you’re speaking with. That’s one of the big messages of this workshop.
This woman, who has already demonstrated herself to be definitely a high achiever, very motivated, very driven, very smart, just like most of these people are – she was sitting during a role play and looking at her phone and typing on her phone. Pretty much the whole time during the role play. When I stopped by their trio as I kind of float around and give feedback to the different trios that are currently having role plays, I looked at her for a bit just to make sure that I wasn’t misinterpreting what was going on. Maybe it wasn’t her turn to role play, maybe she had to take an important message or something. No, she was interacting in the role play as if she was having an important conversation with someone and driving the conversation, and at the same time she was clicking on her phone.
I said, “Are you aware that you’re on your phone?” She said, “Oh, yes, I’m multitasking.” I said, “So, I’d love for you to role play as if this was for real so that it can be the most effective.” She said, “Oh, I would do this if it was for real. All of the executives in my company do this too. And we’re really good at multitasking, so it’s part of my developing leadership skills. I have to become good at multitasking.”
No. No. When you have an important conversation with someone, you can’t be multitasking! She wanted to argue about it and I had to put my foot down. This is not okay behavior, but I do know that it happens. I know that you might be seeing examples from the role models that you’re trying to emulate, doing this, but it doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t. Here’s the problem: how does it make you feel if you’re on the receiving end of having a conversation that’s really important, that has the potential of creating a misunderstanding, that has the potential of creating a conflict, that has some kind of an emotional undertone, that has consequences to the relationship and an important relationship at home or work or wherever, and you’re on the receiving end of someone who seems to be multitasking as they speak to you. They’re clicking on their computer, or they’re clicking on their phone or they just seem to be doing something else while you’re talking. How does it feel?
I’m sorry, but there is no way that you can sell me on the fact that it feels good, or that you’re indifferent. I know some people try to say that and maybe you’re trying to build up thick skin and maybe you’re trying to shed the part of you that gets annoyed or offended, but I want to tell you, it’s normal for you to feel slighted and you’re not supposed to try and shed that. Okay, if everybody is doing it, you have to figure out a way to deal with it, but what I really want you to hear from here is, two wrongs don’t make a right. I know your mom told you this one! Just because other people might be doing it, it doesn’t make it right, and I really don’t want you to do it to others, because this is not effective leadership, it is not effective communication skills, it is not effective listening.
Not only does science show us over and over again in studies that people are not able to multitask on executive function skills – in other words, your brain actually cannot do a couple of different things that require executive function-level participation of your brain. What it does is it tries to switch quickly between the two tasks, and then there is what is called switch cost, which is 25 to 40 percent of your productivity goes to waste between trying to do two different executive function things at the same time, aka multitasking, and between doing one at a time of two things and finishing. You actually finish less efficiently with less quality when you try to multitask. So stop it. You can’t multitask. You can multitask folding laundry and listening to a podcast. You can multitask listening to something important and doodling, maybe, but not really thinking deeply about something that somebody is saying and at the same time formulating an email message to someone on your phone. You cannot do it. Your brain doesn’t work that way.
Beyond the actual content being potentially misinterpreted, you may actually have problems in the reception of the information. You also have problems with the reception of the emotional information about the conversation, because what you are communicating to the other person if you’re trying to multitask while listening is you are saying to them, in effect – and I know this may not be your intention, but intention and impact are not equal – you may be received as saying to them, “You are not important enough. Talking to you is not important enough to receive 100 percent of my attention.” Whether or not they read that message from you consciously or not, their subconscious is reading this message from you, and this gets stored as part of the information about the relationship with you and it does damage to the relationship, because this person feels that you are making them less important than they think that they should be.
When you damage trust and damage the closeness of the relationship, you are causing damage that will be there the next time you need to talk to this person, that will be there the next time they interpret a message from you, that will be there when you try to deliver constructive feedback without offending them, that will be there when you need something from them and they don’t feel like they want to go out of their way because you have demonstrated to them something that is slighted or damaging to the trust between you.
So I beseech you. I implore you – please. When you’re listening, especially in important relationships, especially during important conversations, but in general, put the phone down and pay close attention. Make eye contact. Listen with your whole brain and your whole body. Listen! It will actually take less time to have that conversation than when you’re trying to multitask and it will make a huge positive impact on your relationship or at least prevent causing a negative impact to the relationship that this kind of distracted listening can create.
I feel like I’ve been on a soapbox. I don’t know how this is received by you and whether this is something you’re experiencing? I’d love to hear from you. But in general, just because people are doing it wrong does not make it suddenly right, and you can’t suddenly jump evolution in a short amount of time now that you are a manager, now that you are a leader. You can’t suddenly shortcut the evolutionary, deep-seated ways of your brain as a human. So we can’t ignore that stuff. We have to take it into consideration, keep it in mind and be smart and strategic in how we communicate so that we are creating the best chance of successful communication.
I wanted to share that with you today and I hope this is something you’ll practice going forward. Start noticing, how do people pay attention to you when you’re talking to them? How are you paying attention to them when they’re speaking to you?
Before we wrap up, I wanted to share with you a short Apple Podcasts review that the show has received. It’s the new name for iTunes and it is where reviews make a big difference, because when people are searching for new shows and they just happen to discover this show based on a suggestion from the algorithm or based on a search by keyword or because other people that they follow are also listening to it – for whatever reason – they’re usually going to go and look at the reviews to see, “Hey, is this a good show to listen to?” Leaving the show a review is something that is so, so helpful. And I really appreciate it.
This one came in from Spunky Misfit Girl – kind of a cute name – and she says, the title of her review is “Super useful for leaders.” It goes like this: “Halelly does a great job leading the conversation in a way that is useful and logical as well as enjoyable to listen to. She has incredible guests with a lot of wisdom to share who might not be the ones you’ve already heard from elsewhere.” I really appreciate this review, Spunky Misfit Girl, and I really appreciate you listening to the TalentGrow Show and that you took the time to say these nice things and help other people choose to take a little bit of time and listen to the show and give it a chance. All right, you, listener, TalentGrowers, please take the time and leave me a positive review. I will really be appreciative, and I can read it on the show! So, I hope to see that from you. This is it for another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow. Thanks for listening, and until the next time, make today great.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.
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