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Listen Up: Don't Fall Victim To Your Dwindling Attention Span

When we stop actively listening to others, we also lose one of the easiest ways for us to grow.

In 2015 research by Microsoft identified that since the year 2000 the average Canadian's attention span dropped to eight seconds from 12 seconds -- a drop of 33 per cent. While I can not find the source study, it has been written about in the the New York Times, Time Health, the CBC and many more.

Part of our attention span challenge is that we are so busy at work and at home. Yup, I'll give you a huge check mark on that one. We are also being desensitized by louder, very targeted marketing and social media. Unfortunately, as we get busy and our attention span drops, we often unconsciously stop listening to each other in an interested, caring, meaningful way. This leads to us also losing connection with the people most important to us. We lose each other's trust.

Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

But that isn't all. When we stop actively listening to others, we also lose one of the easiest ways for us to grow, to expand our knowledge, to experience an idea from someone else's point of view. Listening is at the heart of sharing ideas, learning, progress and collaboration.

Let's explore how to listen to each other

Step 1: Practice intention

A critical skill to be a good listener is to practice your intention. Decide you will practice active listening or conscious listening.

When someone is speaking, stay quiet and take it all in. Let your speakers complete their thoughts without interruptions. Positive verbal or visual feedback is often seen as a good thing, but it can also be distracting. Interruptions may be verbal, like questions or affirmations, or interruptions may be visual, like enthusiastically nodding your head in agreement or by looking away (often seen as bored or uncaring). Your intention should be to stay observant, inquisitive, but quiet -- a little affirmation goes a long way. Save your questions and visual enthusiasm for when they are finished speaking.

Your verbal or visual feedback may also influence other people in the room. For example, let's say you are a leader of a team and you outwardly support an idea someone is sharing. Also at the meeting is one of your employees who has a contrary experience that would be very helpful. However, they don't want to appear to challenge their leader so they stay quiet. Unfortunately, everyone and the project looses out on valuable information.

Idea: if you are a leader -- plan on speaking last.

It's especially easy to unintentionally stop listening when we are with people we are familiar with.

Step 2: Ask open-ended questions

When people have finished speaking, ask open-ended questions to get clear on what they are sharing. Examples of open-ended questions include "Tell me more about that" and "What do you think could be done?" or "What happened next?" Being inquisitive helps you learn from their perspective, their education, ideas and/or experience.

By being inquisitive you may also help your speaker to explore the topic and/or their beliefs or motivations in ways they had not considered. If you approach your questions in a non-threatening way, it is likely they wont feel defensive and become more invested in exploring options.

Step 3. Recap your understanding using confirming statements

Confirming statements are a check-in between you and the speaker; they help to ensure you understood what the speaker is sharing with you. Confirming statements give the speaker an opportunity to clarify points and perhaps add additional information that was missed and for you to ask more open ended questions. Confirming statements can be as easy as the following two statements:

  1. Confirm your understanding. "What I hear is that you support Time Management Training because XYZ."
  2. Ask if your understanding is accurate. "Did I understand what you think could be done?"
Xavier Arnau


Listening means engaging with other people. At work, one of the easiest ways to build a better relationship with a co-worker is to listen to each other... as well as the learning part discussed above.

We are often busy when we are with others, and it's especially easy to unintentionally stop listening when we are with people we are familiar with. When this happens, we often begin hearing only what we want to hear, and even worse, misinterpret what the other person says. Have you ever left a meeting and were surprised later when you found out someone felt you agreed with an idea or that you would do something? This is why confirming statements are so important.

But when we feel we are being listened to, a few things happen. First, people will be more willing to listen to your ideas if they feel you've listened to theirs. Second, we feel respected, and respect is a wonderful characteristic or value on which to build a relationship. If you feel disrespected, I bet you won't energetically offer help to that person.

Happy communicating, mentoring, motivating, coaching... and training.

Click here to learn more about Bruce Mayhew Consulting. We facilitate courses including email etiquette, time management, leadership, generational differences and more.

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