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We Need a Law Against Distracted Listeners

Bill Lampton, Ph.D. -- Here's a career tip: Make courteous silence a cornerstone for your professional and personal interactions.

I'm delighted that the law against distracted driving has become effective in Georgia, my residential and business base. Wherever you live, I imagine you have read about car crashes caused by drivers who were texting or talking on their hand-held cell phones, causing them to take their attention off the road—sometimes with deadly repercussions.

Yet I wish some government agency somewhere could make distracted listening illegal, too. As acclaimed author Stephen Covey said so accurately in his pivotal book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

You can spot distracted listeners so easily. They look over your shoulder at a business after hours reception to find somebody they consider more deserving of their attention than you are.

Another signal: They interrupt you repeatedly, before you finish your sentences. At worst, they even finish your sentences for you, often making inaccurate assumptions about your thinking.

Distracted listeners make comments that show they didn't pay attention to what you said two minutes ago. They pick up their smart phones to check messages. They shuffle through papers on their desks. They doodle. They start walking away while you are still talking.

The business results: Distracted listeners offend potential buyers, annoy current customers, disrupt meetings, damage team morale, misinterpret instructions, start rumors by misquoting corporate officers, and miss significant details. As a result, in many cases they reduce corporate profits.

The personal results: Distracted listeners weaken friendships, marriages, parental opportunities, and groups they join as volunteers. Eventually they are likely to damage their own self-esteem, when they see how negatively people react to their communication deficiency.

So much for talking about this problem generally. How can we stop our own distracted listening? Here's a key that communication consultant Deborah Boswell told me. She noted that the word listen contains exactly the same letters as the word silent. Coincidence? Yes, of course. Even so, learning courteous silence can become a cornerstone for our professional and personal interactions.

And this reminds me of the sage observation I heard an executive make about a colleague: "He misses plenty of good chances to just shut up."


Bill Lampton, Ph.D., "Biz Communication Guy," helps corporations and leaders communicate with poise, persuasion—and profits. His top-tier client list includes Ritz-Carlton Cancun, Procter and Gamble, Gillette, University of Georgia Athletic Association, and Celebrity Cruises. Visit his Web site to learn more about his services, and while there subscribe to his online newsletter to get regular tips that will boost your business: Or, call 678-316-4300.

© 2019 Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

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