Part of a project I was working on was to obtain the price of a particular service. I contacted a vendor who already provided us with similar services, and it took two online chats and three emails in which I repeated my question about the price to finally receive the answer. In another situation, I worked on new hire documents. The start date was missing on the Change of Status form, and I asked to add this information on the form and send it again. Instead of the corrected form, I received once again the entire new hire 11-page package with the same form – and the missing start date. On another occasion, I asked my neighbor if she had gotten her electric bill in the mail yet. Instead of giving me a Yes or No, she told me over five long minutes how upset she was about the mail service in general.
These situations got me thinking. What are the reasons that most recently, people do not give straight answers or no answers at all and it takes multiple attempts to get to the answers? So much time goes by to get to the answer when we “have to pull it out of them”, and it’s holding us back in getting things done. This can get very frustrating.
It has to do with the digital environment that has overtaken our lives. Being in the second year of this Covid pandemic, people in general are fed up with limitations and restrictions in their lives and especially digital communications. There is a big difference between having a conversation in person, face-to-face, or on a virtual, digital platform. But in the pandemic, everything is virtual. Instead of going to the grocery store and buying groceries, we order them online. Instead of going to the doctor’s office, we meet the doctor virtually. Instead of sending our kids to school, they have virtual classes. Instead of visiting ill family members in the hospital, we can only meet them virtually on our computers. And in some sad incidents, instead of attending a loved one’s funeral, we can only be there virtually.
When being exposed to mostly digital conversations, I have observed that the focus of attention shifts from the audio to the visual aspect. The “viewers” are getting hung up on components of presentation slides and training videos while completely missing the initial point or topic. They like to immerse in the so-called meeting “rabbit holes” and it takes a long time to get back on track to the meeting’s core. Being all digital, people are starting to neglect their active listening skills when it comes to listening to others. Instead of recognizing the core of a question or comment, they recognize everything around the core and react to that.
People are tired of listening to other people because they are listening to too many virtual meetings, training videos, and bad news all day. They are tired of having to listen to new restrictions, new infection rates, extended business closings, new vaccination rates, and everything else that we cannot or are not supposed to do during the pandemic. Instead of listening, people want to be heard. They want to have a voice in all of this. Times are really tough – for all of us. It can be challenging to stay in good spirits when everything around us looks upside down. We should remember that talking over each other and not listening to each other does not get us anywhere. Kindness and respect for and to each other is the way that gets us where we need to be. That includes actively listening what a person is telling or asking us and responding to exactly that. If we actively listen to the people in our lives, they in turn will actively listen to us. Active listening goes both ways, and it certainly goes a long way. Have you actively listened to someone today?