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Posted by on May 1, 2012

Thought Bubble: “Blah, Blah, Blah”

As leaders and HR professionals, we frequently have the amazing opportunity to work with our clients on their improving their leadership skills. Maintaining a strategic focus, treating the people well, and meeting or exceeding business results are leadership indicators that most leaders would agree are vital to their success.

I’ve had the opportunity to hear Pat Donahoe, Postmaster General for the United States Postal Service, speak on several different occasions. Whenever he opens the floor for questions, people inevitably ask him the same question. “Pat, what’s the number one thing you would suggest it takes to become a top leader?” Every time, Mr. Donahoe answers, “Listening.”

Hmmm. Listening. Do you mean that thing we’ve been doing for our entire lives? The thing that has allowed us to relate to someone else, share successes as well as challenges, and then set out upon a course of action based on what we understand? Yes. That very thing. Then why is it so hard to do? Why is it so hard to be fully present when we’re communicating with someone else? Why do we let our internal dialogue so strongly influence our interpretation of our external interchange?

I recently saw this depicted in an amazing way. I was working with an audience, and in the audience, many of the participants were either visually impaired or blind. We were going to use a video, and the point of contact mentioned that she had an “audio enhanced” version of that video. Not really understanding what that meant, I quickly agreed to use her version. She had used it successfully with similar audiences, so I thought it was the best option.

If you’ve never experienced an audio enhanced video, it takes a little getting used to. A rather robotic sounding voice interjects and describes what’s going on in the background, specifically to allow those with visual impairments to get a fuller picture of the interchange. It works very well, in most cases, to allow those with visual difficulty to understand what’s going on. For those of us who are sighted, it’s a great experience. I’m sure you’re familiar with movies with subtitles where you can see what’s being said.

Here, you hear what’s being done.

The most memorable moment in that video, for me at least, was a vignette where someone was prattling on and on about something that seemed insignificant. The robotic voice said, “Thought bubble: blah, blah blah” precisely at the same time when the actors on screen were clearly not listening to each other. I chuckled, along with many of the others.

How different would your conversations be if the people you were talking to could actually read your thoughts? Surely we’ve all thought “blah blah blah” when we’re on hold trying to speak to a customer service rep or doing something that may seem mundane, but what if, and I mean if, the person you’re speaking to has something that’s very important to say. Not something that you’ve heard before, yet something that you really need to hear? How do you suspend distractions to give them your full presence? It takes practice; it takes work, and it takes intention.

For the next week, strive to be fully present when someone comes to talk to you. Give them the gift of your attention in a way that you perhaps never had before. Don’t check your approved electronic device; turn away from your computer. Give them your full, unadulterated presence.

You’ll be surprised at what you might find out.

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