Divided attention costs us understanding. It then double charges us – we fail to understand who we’re connecting with and our partner in conversation can fail to feel safe, cared for, and understood.
There is a hidden villain lurking in our conversations.
How good of a listener are you? Many of us in the innovation profession believe that we are a good listener. It’s part and parcel of our work.
Now consider this. Who are you good at listening to?
When was the last time you had an experience in which you were listening to somebody while also doing another activity, say, watching TV or scanning email?
In that situation your attention was divided. If we’re honest, there were certainly parts of the conversation that we missed. In business there is a pervasive practice and belief that multitasking is necessary for our success. We must be productive. How else are we going to attend the meetings we believe we must attend AND that fill our days AND get our work done?
Consider what this costs us when we develop that as a habit and that habit follows us home. How do you feel when you are trying to share your anxieties, discomforts, or something deeply personal, and the person you are talking to has their attention divided?
Close your eyes and relive that situation for a moment.
I’m going to hazard a guess that at that moment, and in the moments after, you may have felt to varying degrees doubt, unimportant, uncared for, and misunderstood.
The reality can be much worse than these cases we’re exploring. Iin truth, for the vast majority our attention is always divided. Our minds are very busy, even when we think we’re listening to others we’re more often listening to our own thoughts.
To answer our original question, “Who are you good at listening too?”, for most of us we’re exceptionally good at listening to ourselves – even when we believe we’re good listeners in conversation.
There is an opportunity cost. Divided attention costs us understanding. It then double charges us – we fail to understand who we’re connecting with and our partner in conversation can fail to feel safe, cared for, and understood.
Why does this matter? What’s at stake?
Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a care provider and a patient approaches you with complaints of chronic back pain.
What questions would you ask them, and more importantly, what kinds of answers would you listen to determine where to direct them?
What if their pain is being manifest, at its root, from emotional or social causes?
Consider Dr. John E Sarno’s experience, as shared in his book, Healing Back Pain.
Healing Back Pain promises permanent elimination of back pain without drugs, surgery, or exercise. It should have been titled Understanding TMS Pain, because it discusses one particular cause of back pain–Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS)–and isn’t really a program for self-treatment, with only five pages of action plan (and many more pages telling why conventional methods don’t work). According to John E. Sarno, M.D., TMS is the major cause of pain in the back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, and limbs–and it is caused not by structural abnormalities but by the mind’s effort to repress emotions. He’s not saying that your pain is all in your head; rather, he’s saying that the battle going on in your mind results in a real physical disorder that may affect muscles, nerves, tendons, or ligaments. An injury may have triggered the disorder, but is not the cause of the amount or intensity of the resulting pain. According to Sarno, the mind tricks you into not facing repressed emotion by making you focus on pain in the body. When this realization sinks in (“and it must sink in, for mere intellectual appreciation of the process is not enough”), the trick doesn’t work any more, and there’s no need for the pain.
What questions would you ask to test for this?
In this situation, how would you listen and probe to discover the possibility that a psychologist or a therapist may be the better starting point than a back specialist who may lead the patient to more expensive and possibly unnecessary interventions?
We are inviting you to this conversation to join us in exploring these hypotheses:
- Divided attention is the enemy to uncovering true needs.
- Even when we are focused on the interviewee, our attention is still divided as we listen to our own thinking in our busy minds.
- By listening beyond ourselves, we can make it easier to uncover deeper, truer needs in less time.
- A shift in our thinking can create a shift in our listening.
- There are better and worse questions to ask to elicit needs.
An interview guide can help make it easier to uncover deeper, truer needs in less time.