When people think about listening, they assume it is similar to hearing. This is a precarious misconception because it leads people to believe listening is passive. Hearing a message is a passive exercise; but listening to a message requires mental energy, and this makes listening skills more active.
To fully understand a spoken message, a listener must hear, qualify, and understand what is being spoken.
The average person experiences mind-drift about 30 percent of their waking day. Much of this includes the typical daydreaming that might occur while driving a vehicle or taking a walk through a park. Mind-drift becomes a problem when it interferes with a service professional’s listening skills. Five or 10 seconds of mind-drift, while a customer is speaking, can result in a loss of valuable information for a service professional. The best remedy is fearless and courageous listening behavior to ensure the message is heard, qualified, and understood.
Service professionals may get bombarded with multiple messages simultaneously, and this makes it almost impossible to listen effectively. In the midst of a multitasking and busy environment, service professionals must be fearless qualifiers. Most adults are cowardly qualifiers, because they lack the courage to go the extra step to fully understand what is being spoken.
Mutual understanding improves when we engage more of our sensory information. Taking notes while listening utilizes two senses: listening and writing. Our ability to retain information increases when we take notes. Take it a step further and repeat the information back to the customer (this is called the echo technique), and you engage more sensory information. A person’s ability to hear, qualify, and understand increases exponentially when they do three things: listen, take notes, and echo what was spoken.
The average attention span has diminished due to the rate of interruption that service professionals must endure. While interruptions come in many forms, the most pervasive interruptions are ubiquitous cell phones. Incoming phone calls, text messages, and e-mails can be ongoing.
Each interruption requires mental energy and focused attention about whether to reply immediately or defer a response until later. For field service professionals, there is ongoing contact from a dispatcher regarding scheduling changes and updates.
Turning off the ringer on a cell phone does not always help matters. Some service professionals will make matters worse by placing their portable communications device on vibrate mode before a customer meeting. While vibrator mode is inaudible, it still becomes a listening distraction. Have you ever noticed the lack of concentration as someone ponders their uncertainty about whether they should glance at their cell phone as it vibrates on their hip? This is a silly predicament for a service professional to be in. Sometimes it’s best to turn off a cell phone. Service professionals must discern when their listening skills need to be sharpest and then take the necessary precaution.
If you experience mind-drift while listening to a customer, it’s best to assess whether you missed anything important and then act courageously. Ask the following, “I want to make sure I heard that last part correctly; may I please hear that again?” Asking questions is better than fixing mistakes due to miscommunication.