We’re living through a disconnected era in our nanosecond-based, 24/7, ADD, mostly virtual world. Our colleagues and fellow workers nod and smile a lot to show that they’re listening, but it’s not really happening. Real connection is rare. Their internal monologues are too intense, too scared, and too far down Maslow’s hierarchy – will I still have my job? How can I pay my mortgage? Are my kids staying out of trouble? — for us to compete in the attention stakes.
In short, we have an epidemic of fake listening. It’s the kind of listening that really means the other parties are just thinking up what they’re going to say next, if they’re on the same conversational planet at all.
What are the body language signs of fake listening? The eye contact is too fixed, and too still. He holds his head very still, as if to show that he’s really focused on you. Or she smiles too brightly, holding the smile too long. But a real conversation, as I talked about in the last blog, is full of anticipatory nods and hand-offs of eye contact in order to allow smooth conversational Ping-pong. It’s relaxed and synchronized. Fake listening feels very different from that. It’s tense rather than fluid, abrupt rather than smooth, hyped rather than natural.
And that’s just the face. Watch the rest of the body. Is it turning away from you? Is he tapping his fingers? Is she pointing her feet toward the door? Is the other party in constant motion, in fact, never quite coming to rest during the conversation? These are all signs of Connection Deficit Syndrome.
When Malcolm Gladwell published Blink, the book gave many people an apparently great excuse not to listen. You can learn all you want to learn with a quick gut read – why pay attention? It didn’t matter that Gladwell was wrong in the way he conflated deep-seated expert judgment with uninformed gut reaction. The damage was done. We now had a bestselling reason not to connect. “Just nutshell it for me,” people started to say.
Let’s start a counter-trend. Take the time to connect with other people by being truly present. Let your own mind go quiet, and instead of chattering away to yourself – or planning your escape – focus on the other person with the intent to connect. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn. When everyone else is moving at 100 miles per hour, start your own Slow Connection Movement. It’s time to get back to doing what we humans do best: use our empathy to form bonds with our fellow human beings.