Leaders Listen

There is music in the air, a pounding melody rising above the concerto of traffic noise as I gas my car at the corner station.  I look up to see two high-school boys bopping down the sidewalk together, each wearing a headphone umbilical connection to the latest must-have i-pod/phone.

As I listen from a distance, I can only imagine the decibel level for them. The remarkable thing, however, is not the volume but the fact that they are carrying on a seemingly normal conversation at the same time.  How do they do that?

It’s not the physics of the thing that has me flummoxed as much as their ability to walk, talk, think, listen to music, play a game, and still not become a traffic statistic all at the same time.  They call it multitasking – the ability to perform several functions simultaneously.

But, as I marvel over the teenage mind, I realize that I may not be so far removed.  So many times when I’m engaged in a conversation, my mouth is talking, but my mind is a million miles away, occupied with thoughts about my next meeting, the speech I am about to give, the next board agenda . . . etc. Our minds are being conditioned to multitask without processing the current moment.

It’s worse if I happen to be talking on the telephone – I can work on the computer, surf through 120 satellite channels, all while supposedly having a heart-to-heart chat with a close friend on the phone.  This pattern seems to have become the norm for many.  Rather than focus fully on the person with whom we are speaking, we live in several disparate moments at once, talking at the other person, not to them. The quality of our relationships lay in the depths of the connections we make.

We need to remember that there is so much going on in our lives and that we face many distractions, not the least of which are a myriad of media manipulations, siren-like demanding our attention.

That’s a principal problem in so many relationships – lack of focus.  We’re missing a genuine respect for the other person because we allow too many diversions to pull at our eyes and ears, hearts and minds. We are missing the moments of life.

We are the media mavens.  We create this stuff, and pour it out into the world in an electromagnetic tsunami, well intentioned as it may be.  But it also is our responsibility to set the example in the proper use of the on-off switch.

But, we also need to remember that we are ambassadors of Christ and the people with whom we speak are more important than our schedules, hobbies, and to-do lists. Multitasking may be a good thing if you’re a computer, I suppose.  But for human beings, there is a time to turn it off, to focus exclusively on the single task of one-on-one communication, in the workplace, and especially at home.

The leadership challenge: turn off the noise, be together in conversation truly alone. Make deep relationship connections with people. Here are some ideas that I have used to help me truly put away the noise.

  • Look at people in the eye, face to face
  • Listen and observe the body language
  • Speak their name
  • Restate what they said to you
  • Put away your cell phone during meetings
  • Make meetings cell-free zones
  • Establish a technology free zone in your home (kitchen, dinner table, bedroom)

Leave a Reply