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Ugly Truth: Nobody Really Listens to You (But Still There Are Ways to Make What You Say Heard)

Ugly Truth: Nobody Really Listens to You (But Still There Are Ways to Make What You Say Heard)

Has it ever happened to you? You gave a super interesting presentation which you were sure would blow the audience away and whilst giving the talk, you realize that the audience is super bored, disinterested and not even listening to what you had to say in the first place?

Don’t take this personally or being reflective of your talking and communication skills – truth is most if not all people are not good at listening. The average attention span of a human being has always even been transient at best, and now with the advent of smartphones and technology – we now have attention spans shorter than that of a goldfish![1].

We all may be physically present at one plane, and appear to be attentive but mostly, our minds wander all over the place… And this situation is not just limited to you giving a talk to an audience, but sometimes even in interpersonal communication where you may be baring your heart and should, but the other person is inadvertently not paying attention…

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Doesn’t the Onus of Listening Lie With the Listener?

In a fair world, sure, but then the world isn’t all that a fair place, is it? What we need to do, is to stop resenting the fact that we may be saying or talking about the most interesting thing in the world but the other person may have stopped listening to it a while back. Instead, what we do need to do is to read the subtle signs of a person not listening so as to bring our audience’s attention back to us.

The effectiveness of a speaker ultimately lies with how much of it the audience has heard, listened and understood from and not just being a good talker. As a speaker, you have to ensure that the audience’s attention is on you, much like a spotlight.

What Are the Signs of Ineffective Listening?

As a speaker, you need to be aware of when the audience’s attention span starts to wander – and need to change the way you are talking so that everyone sits up and pays attention. It may not be fair to you as a speaker, but then the idea is that you need to make people listen using whatever means necessary – simply because there’s not much difference between your audience and a bunch of goldfish when it comes to paying attention! So read these signs of ineffective listening, and know when an intervention is needed.

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Whether your audience is a whole auditorium full of people, or just someone you are having a one on one contact with – these are the common, non-verbal sign that your audience is no longer really listening to you.[2]

  • Lack of eye contact: Most people actually listening to you talk, are likely to maintain a certain level of eye contact with you. If your audience is shying away from eye contact, they are likely distracted and not listening to you.
  • Too little or too much of nodding: When people are truly listening to you and understanding what you have to say – they tend to nod every now and then. If your audience is sitting with no nodding, or god forbid too much nodding – they are not listening!
  • No questions or response from the audience: At the end of a talk, as a speaker, you are likely to ask your audience if they have any doubts or need any further clarifications from you. Signs of good listening usually include at least a couple of questions of clarifications – but if you receive no response. It is possible that no one was actually listening to you.
  • No facial expressions: A wooden audience means that they weren’t listening to your jokes, your let’s get serious lines or even those argument-inspiring diktats.
  • Your audience interrupts you too much: Finally, if your audience keeps interrupting you – for clarifications, for arguing a point, for any random point – it is likely that they are on a different train of thought entirely.

How To Bring the Listening Spotlight Back on You

While it’s disheartening for the person who is talking to see that his audience, be it one or many, is not really listening to him – the best way to tackle this is to not take it personally, and simply get the spotlight of your audience’s attention back to you. Here are a few tips…

Make an Intentional Pause

If your audience is distracted, your voice and talk may have just turned into background noise for them. To snap them out of their inertia, pause for a moment. The idea is not to embarrass anyone and bring the spotlight on them – but when you stop speaking for a few moments, your audience is likely to snap out of their wandering thoughts and look at you in momentary surprise. This is the time to strike into new territory or even summarize your earlier topic into a couple of short, succinct sentences.[3]

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Ask a Question, Skillfully

One way to get the audience’s interest is to ask a question – albeit skillfully. Do not embarrass your audience – instead, summarize your points and then ask for opinions from people. Don’t get bothered if people are using their cell phones for that’s only normal. Instead, summarize and then ask questions. Make the audience part of your speech and you will see the cell phones slowly slip into pockets. When you ask a question, human competitiveness comes to the fore – and even the backseat laggards want to participate all of a sudden.[4]

Make a Sudden Verbal or Non Verbal Change

If you have been elaborating on the same point for a while, some of your audience may have become distracted. To bring their attention back – make a quick verbal change. Laugh suddenly or raise the pitch of your voice a few notches. This sudden change will bring drifting minds back from hearing to listening. Crack a sudden joke, do an impromptu dance, clap your hands – a sudden sound or visual stimuli is likely to bring everyone’s attention back to you. Change always grabs attention.[5]

Turn It Around

Mostly, the audience is used to the speaker having them turn off their cell phones and basically behave likes student in pre-K, even if they all might be CEOs of multimillion dollar companies. So, as a speaker, turn things around. A few really successful speakers have been known to use reverse psychology – they tell the audience not to put away the cell phones, remarking that this was not a church or a hospital. This establishes rapport between the audience and the speaker and this makes listening to a fun process.[6]

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Insert a Couple of Breaks

If your talk is going to be a tad long, make sure you insert a couple of breaks. Encourage your audience to go have a bathroom or water break, stretch their legs a tad or even catch up on Facebook or Twitter. Breaks, well, break the monotony of listening and freshen up your audience for all that you have to say further…

Remember that holding the attention of an audience; be it one or many is usually an uphill talk. Don’t get discouraged with wandering thoughts and learn the tips and tricks of bringing the focus back on to you. Laugh a lot, and make the audience smile too – and effective listening will soon follow.

Reference

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Rima Pundir

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

7 Techniques to Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions

7 Techniques to Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions

The world has become a very distracting place, you don’t need me to tell you that. Where once we could walk out of our house or office and disappear into our own world with our own thoughts, we are now connected 24 hours a day to a network that’s sole purpose is to make us available to anyone and everyone at any time they choose to disturb us.

Of course, it is very easy to sit here and say all you have to do is turn off your electronic devices and just allow yourself several hours of quiet solitude; but the reality is far harder than that. There is an expectation that we are available for anyone whenever they want us.

However, if you do want to elevate yourself and perform at your best every day, to produce work of a higher quality than anyone expects and to regain control over what you do and when you will need to regain some control over your time, so you can focus on producing work that matters to you…

The good news: You do not have to become a recluse. All you need are a few simple strategies that will allow you enough flexibility in your day to stay focused to do the work that matters and still allow you to deal with other people’s crises and dramas.

Here are 7 ways you can stay focused and be less distracted.

1. Find out When You Are at Your Most Focused

According to research, brilliantly documented by Daniel Pink in his latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, our brains have a limited capacity to stay focused each day.[1]

From the moment we wake up to the time we turn in for the day, we are using up our brain’s limited energy resources and, depending on the time of day, we will be moving between strong concentration and low concentration.

This means that for most people, their optimum time for sustained concentration and focus will be soon after they wake up. For others, it could be later in the evening—a kind of second wind—but that is rare.

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Once you understand this, you can take time to learn when you are at your best and to protect that time on your calendar as much as possible. If you can, block it off and use that time for the work you need to do that requires the most concentration each day.

2. Get Comfortable Using ‘Do Not Disturb’ Mode

We have the ability to switch our electronic devices to do not disturb mode. Where all notifications are off and your phone or computer will not alert you to a new email or message.

Now after testing this function for a number of years, I can happily report that it does work.

When I sat down to write this article, I put all my electronic devices to do not disturb, closed down my email and began writing. I am safe in the knowledge that until this article is written, and I turn do not disturb off, there will be no interruptions or distractions.

Of course, it is not really about whether do not disturb works or not, it is whether you are willing to turn it on or not.

Most people believe they have to be constantly available for their boss or customers. This is not true at all. What has happened is because of your always available status, you have conditioned these people to turn to you first whenever they have a problem.

You are not actually helping them at all. You are preventing them from having to think for themselves and develop the skill of problem-solving. By not being so readily available, you help them a lot more.

What it comes down to is your boss and customers are going to be far more positive with you, if you deliver your work to the highest quality and on time than you being available 24/7. Trust me on that. I also tested that one.

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3. Schedule Focus Time Every Day

This technique is a lot easier than you may think.

First, you figure out when you are least likely to be disturbed. For me, that is between 6 and 9 am. for a lot of my clients, they find the first 90 minutes in the morning at their workplace is when they are not likely to be disturbed. This is important because you want to be building consistency.

Most people start their day by checking their email and other messages. While they are doing that, they are not going to be bothering you. Now there is no rule about when you should be checking your email. The chances are email is not going to be where you want to spend your most focused time, so you can decide to check your email at say 10:30 am.

Dedicate 30 minutes from 10:30 am to 11:00 am for email processing and use the first 90 minutes of your day for doing your most important work. You will surprise yourself by how much work you get done in that ninety minutes.

4. Plan Your Day the Night Before

One of the inevitabilities of life is there is always a plan for the day. The choice is whether the plan you have is a plan of your own making or not. If you don’t have a plan, then the day will take control of you. Other people’s priorities, urgencies and dramas will fill your day. As the late Jim Rohn said:

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”

If you take control and make it a habit to plan out what you want to accomplish the next day before you go to bed, you will find yourself staying more focused on your work and be less likely disturbed.

Now when I say plan your day the night before, I do not mean you need to spend an hour or so planning and mapping out every minute of the day. Planning your day should only take you around 10 to 15 minutes and you only need to decide what 10 things you want to complete — 2 “must do” objective tasks and 8 “would like to do” tasks. What I call the 2+8 Prioritisation Technique:

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Do not be tempted to go beyond 10 tasks for the day. When you do that, you do not have enough flexibility in your day to handle crises and other unknown issues that will pop up throughout the day.

When you do not build in flexibility, you will soon stop planning your day. Only plan tasks that will have the biggest positive impact on your work and projects.

5. Learn to Say “No”

I am sure you’ve been told this before. We are wired to please and this results in us wanting to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way. The problem is we cannot do everything and every time you say “yes” to one opportunity, you are saying “no” to another opportunity. You cannot be in two places at the same time.

Jay Shetty shared an inspiring video on JOMO “Joy Of Missing Out”. Here’s the video:

Rather than allowing ourselves to be succumbed by FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out), we should replace that ‘fear’ with the “joy” of missing out. Because of our need to please, we say yes to things we really don’t want to do; yet when we do that, we miss out on doing things that bring us joy—creating something special, spending time educating ourselves and just having some quiet alone time with ourselves.

Learn to say “no” every time you get a notification to your phone. Ignore it. Learn to say “no” to your colleagues when they want to gossip. Learn to say “no” to volunteering when the thing you are being asked to volunteer for does not excite you. Just learn to say “no”.

By saying “no” to opportunities, distractions and interruptions, you are saying yes to better and more meaningful things. Things you do want to focus your attention on.

6. Create a Distraction-Free Environment for Your Focused Time

This has been possibly the most powerful tip I learned when it comes to focusing on what is important. Have a place where you do only focused, high-concentration work.

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Now this place needs to be clean and only have the tools you need to do your work. If it is writing a report or preparing a presentation, then it needs a table and a computer, nothing more. Files, paper and other detritus that accumulates on and around people’s desks need to go. A clean, cool and well-lit environment is going to do a lot more for your focus and concentration than anything else.

The dining table in our home is where I go for undisturbed, focussed work. I take my laptop or iPad, and only have my writing app open. Everything is closed down and the computer is in “do not disturb” mode. There is nothing else on the dining table just my computer and my water tumbler.

Because that is my designated focus area, I only go there to work when I have something that needs total focus and concentration. I am there right now!

7. Be Intentional

The reality is, if you absolutely need to get something done then you need to be intentional. You have to have the intention of sitting down, focusing and doing the work.

There’s no magic tricks or apps that will miraculously do all your work for you. You need to intentionally set aside time for undisturbed focus work and do it. Without that intention, you can read as many of these articles as you like and you still will not get the work done.

It is only when you intentionally set yourself up to do the work, turn off all notifications and do whatever it takes to avoid distractions will the work get done.

The Bottom Line

The strategies and tips I shared in this post will go a long way to helping you become better at focusing on the important things in your life. No matter what they are, you are in control of your time and what you do with it and where you spend it, never give that control away to anyone else.

Protect it and it will be your servant. Give that control away and it will become your master and that is not a good place to be.

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Featured photo credit: Manny Pantoja via unsplash.com

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