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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)
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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

More by this author

Rima Pundir

Health, Wellness & Productivity Writer

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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