Pat Egen’s Weblog

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Are we forgetting how to Listen?

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One of my favorite posters in my office is an old one from IBM. It says “Listen to the Customer.” And hopefully, I believe we do. Other consultants have asked us how we became trusted advisers to our clients and I have always said it’s because we listen. We listen and then remember what we heard. That way we can understand and feel the pulse of the client’s business. How can we make informed recommendations if we don’t do that?

That being said, the real purpose of my blog today is to talk about cell and smart phones and how they are getting in the way of listening. To anyone – not just our customers.

There is a certain unnamed VP that I deal with on a sporadic basis. He’s not a client – he’s from an organization I have to deal with in my business. I have never had a conversation with him that he is not texting on his phone. He’s not even looking at me. He’s looking around, back down at his phone, and not at me. Not that I think it’s really important, but don’t you think eye contact means someone actually cares about talking and listening to you during a conversation? Well duh. In fact, during the last conversation we had, standing around at a dinner event, I actually said to him, “well, …., looks like you are busy right now, we’ll chat later.” He didn’t even notice me leaving. Guess I know where I fit in his pecking order of importance. The next time he says “we really need you to reach out and bring in more business” I’m tempted to say “you talkin to me?” using that cool New York gangster accent. You get the drift. If you don’t have the time to listen to me why should I listen to you.

Are we forgetting how to interact face to face with people? Smart phone usage has become the next big frontier on how NOT to act. People are forgetting common courtesy. They are becoming more insular and focused on themselves and their interactions with their mobile devices. That’s a really nasty trend.

Ever been on a plane and had someone talking so loud they could be heard from the back? And being oblivious to the fact that the rest of the plane could care less about their conversation. On my most recent flight, a flight attendant asked a person to put their phone away, and that person said they were on an absolutely critical call that had to happen. My question is what did we do before cell phones. We waited until we got off the plane and rushed to a phone. And that was ok. The only reason I think someone absolutely needs to be on a phone when the doors have been shut is for an emergency or to say the airline has once again left late and to tell someone when you are arriving. But even that can be managed without a phone call.

The next time you go to a restaurant, spend some time looking around at the other tables, especially the ones with 5 or more people. Count how many people are actually chatting and how many have their heads down texting/tweeting/whatever-ing. Bet you it’s mostly the latter. One of my favorite things to do is sit around a table with a bunch of friends, sharing good wine and stories. You can’t do that if people are heads down on their phones.

We’ve had friends get new smart phones and spend most of time on them instead of chatting with us. Are we being selfish? I don’t think so. And I refuse to join in the party.  What message is projected by someone who chooses their phone over conversation with you face to face?

As part of my daily life and business I do tweet.  I like smart phones just as much as anyone else.  I don’t text much because of the plan I’m on. I chose that plan on purpose. But I tweet when I’m alone and never during a conversation.  When I go into a client site, my phone goes into stun mode.  If someone is paying me hourly for my time, they get me for the full time. I won’t insult them by getting on a phone with another client.  How can I do a good job of “listening” to the client if I’m busy with my phone. I can’t.

I’m not sure this trend will end anytime soon. I struggled with what to call this blog article. Is it forgetting to listen or losing the ability to interact face to face? Are cell and smart phones teaching us to be rude? I believe they are. So, I just have to figure out a polite way to say “why don’t we just chat and ignore our phones.” And then watch who starts to twitch first.  Heh heh.  Wish me luck.

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Written by pregen

June 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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