In today’s world, distracted listening is endemic. Most American adults, over 90%, have a cell phone, and well over 65% of American adults own a smart phone. With this recent trend, distracted listening is literally the click of a button or the swipe of a screen away. Tablets, laptops, MP3 players, smart phones, desk tops, TVs, Blue Tooth, etc., all provide the perfect excuse for us to not really listen to one another. I found myself easily falling into the trap of not paying attention to those I needed to most; co-workers, customers, management, and to those I valued most; my wife and my daughters.
I realized that I was providing more time and focus to my smart phone; emailing customers or reading the latest tweet from ESPN than I was to my three year old trying to get her daddy’s attention. I decided it was time for a serious change in my listening habits and focus. I needed to be able to focus on that which was most important, to remove the distractions, and truly be in the now.
In the midst of pondering this question and seeking to determine a process to improve my listening focus, I took a vacation with my wife and children to California. While walking along the beach early one morning with Lucy, the previously mentioned three year old, we saw a large sea shell. This sea shell triggered a faint memory and reminded me of a literary device utilized by William Golding in his classic novel, “Lord of the Flies,” to signify focused listening, a large conch shell. When Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon and company crashed on a desert isle, pandemonium ensued. Chaos and distraction reigned, and not unlike today’s world of electronic anarchy, everyone wanted to speak at the same time. Enter the conch. The conch provided focus for each and every boy on the island. He who held the conch was the center of attention; those who did not hold the conch listened to the one with the conch.
I determined I was going to create a conch in my own life, a mechanism that would allow me to focus my attention on the person I was interacting with. I did not have to look far for an idea.
At Entrata, one of our guiding values is taken from another classic piece of fiction, Top Gun, “Talk to Me Goose.” Maverick, the film’s protagonist, effectively communicates his desire to be a focused listener to his navigator, Goose, by passing him the conch with the simple phrase, “Talk to me Goose!” Using the phrase, “Talk to me Goose,” I developed a simple tool to provide me with a reminder to pass “the conch” to the individual I was interacting with. I committed to TTMG.
|T||Turn Toward the Individual|
|T||Turn off Electronic Devices|
|M||Minimize Other Distractions|
|G||Give Complete Focus (Give them the conch)|
I determined my initial efforts would focus on my interactions with individuals who came to my desk. With a card proudly displaying the acronym “TTMG” printed up and placed on my desk, I decided to implement my plan for focused listening. Whenever a team member or colleague approached my desk, I would first swivel my chair towards them, second, lock my computer and turn my cell phone upside down, third, do my best to drown out other distractions in the office, and fourth, in my mind’s eye, hand them the conch by giving them my complete focus.
I work for the best software company in the world, and I will be the first one to tell you that technology is a fantastic thing. However, there comes a time for everyone to turn off their phones, lock their computer, flip over their tablet, and focus on their customer, their colleague, their friends or their family.
The results of my experiment have not been earth shattering. I have not had team members or colleagues send me an email or a thank you note commending me for my ability to listen more effectively, honestly, accolades were never the intent or purpose for the development of this competency. Rather, I have identified within myself a distinct change. I might not be a perfect listener, but I truly am trying to treat “every encounter with every person on (my ship) as the most important thing in my world at the moment.” What could be more important than your little girl asking you “Can I please tell you something Daddy?” And what could make you feel better than being able to say, without distraction. “Of course you can.”