Do you believe you pay attention?
Me too. Like me, you probably think you’re pretty good at it. After all, you’re reading this sentence, so you must pay attention, right?
To my surprise, I don’t pay attention half as well as I perceived. Not really. I’ll prove it to you. Let me ask you a question. What color is this text?
If you’re like most people, you probably didn’t even notice the color of the text. You were too focused on the words to pay attention to something as trivial as the color. Plus, it’s not like it’s one of the colors that grab attention. But here’s the thing: The color is essential. It’s a big part of what makes this text readable. Without it, the words would be a jumble of shapes and lines. The color is also critical for another reason. It’s an example of something that you’re not paying attention to.
You see, we humans don’t pay attention to things that don’t stand out. We miss details, forget things, and often don’t notice when something changes. That is called inattentional blindness, and it’s a real thing. It’s one of the reasons why intelligent people are often the worst explainers. Smart People are so used to seeing the world in a certain way that they don’t even notice when things are different. They assume that everyone sees the world the same way they do. But we don’t. We’re all paying attention to different things, and we all have our own biases and blind spots.
That’s why it’s so important to be aware of inattentional blindness. It’s not just about being a better explainer; it’s about being a better thinker. The next time you’re trying to explain something, pay attention to what you’re not seeing. It might be the key to understanding why your explanation isn’t working.
How To Address Quick Questions
Imagine this scenario that provides a physical boundary for its participants. (This is a rendition of the Monday Morning Memo from Roy H. Williams):
You go out the door. Someone’s forefinger raises and asks, “Quick question.” They then tie you up for the next 30 minutes. Have you ever been caught in this way?
You smile as you walk away from a quick question and say, “Walk with me,” because you can’t give everyone 30 minutes who raises a finger. The next time you’re accosted, walk away and say, “Walk with me.” The inquirer will almost certainly fall in step beside you. You’ve been “captured” if you stop walking. They capture your attention. A walking person is clearly on a journey, so, “Walk with me” implies that your chance to speak with them will be over once you reach their destination. To guarantee that quick questions stay short:
- Shake their hand and say, “I’m delighted we had the opportunity to chat.”
- Vanish immediately.
“The Bedrock of Leadership Excellence”
Tom Peters is (arguably) the king of business authors. He became so in 1982 after writing “In Search of Excellence,” a book that sold 3 million copies in its first four years. Today, at 75, Tom Peters claims to be a terrible listener and “a serial interrupter.”
To assist him in staying engaged with the other person, he inscribes the word “LISTEN” on his palm before entering meetings. He explains, “The emphasis should be on what the other person is saying rather than coming up with a response.” They notice it, according to him. According to Forbes.com’s Roger Dooley, “Peters points to research that doctors typically listen to a patient described symptoms for 18 seconds before interrupting… Professionals who are intelligent and know what they’re talking about are frequently the worst listeners.”
Good questions to ask someone or yourself if you think you might be a lousy listener:
Do people often tell you that…
…you interrupt them?
…they feel like they can’t get a word in edgewise when talking to you?
…they feel like you’re not listening to them, even when you are looking right at them?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then there’s a good chance that you could improve your listening skills. Here are some tips:
- Try to limit distractions when talking to someone. That means putting away your phone and turning off the TV. Bring to your attention the other person.
- Make eye contact with the person and maintain it throughout the conversation.
- Listen to what the person is saying, and then paraphrase what you heard back to them to show that you were listening. That also allows you to make sure you understood what they said correctly.
- Think of random questions to ask about what the person is saying. It shows that you are interested in the conversation and want to know more.
Getting attention is easy. Buffoons do it everyday. Retaining their interest is the real challenge. Knowing how to get someone’s attention and then keeping it is very helpful in work and social settings. If you work on improving your listening skills, people will likely appreciate it and find it easier to talk to you.
“The Curse of Knowledge”
“I’ve noticed that people who are smart and know what they are talking about are also the worst explainers. That is due to a disease called ‘the curse of knowledge‘ afflicting every expert.”
— Roy H. Williams
The “curse of knowledge” is a term used in economics, psychology, and sociology to describe the difficulty that experts have in communicating with non-experts because they cannot remember what it was like not to know what they know.
In other words, people who are experts in a specific subject matter find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of someone who knows less than they do. As a result, they often make assumptions about what the other person knows and fail to provide sufficient explanation. This “curse of knowledge” can be a significant barrier to effective communication and collaboration. It’s essential to be aware of this phenomenon so that you can take steps to avoid it.
“Which Means” Statements
One way to combat the “curse of knowledge” is by using “which means” statements. When discussing a topic we are well-versed in, we naturally believe that our audience is more familiar with the subject than they are.
As a result, we incorrectly assume that they are “connecting the dots” when they are hardly following what we’re saying. Adding the words “which implies…” to every statement of fact will help you become a more successful instructor. You may do it out loud or silently. Your audience will appreciate you, no matter what method you use to do it.
Here’s an example:
- Gen Z was born between 1995 and 2015, which means:
- They are between the ages of six and 27 right now.
- The youngest millennial is now 27 years old, and each day, they grow a year older.
- In approximately 25 years, the future will be firmly in Gen Z’s hands.
- 77 percent of Gen Z prefer reading printed books, and 59 percent don’t trust Facebook, which means:
- Our current obsession with social media in it’s current iteration may become a passing fad.
- There is an opportunity for a savvy entrepreneur to capitalize on book sales.
- 34 percent of Gen Z said they were permanently leaving social media, and 64 percent are taking a break because, “the platforms make them feel anxious or depressed,” which means:
- Social media’s grip on our attention may be loosening.
- There is a more than likely chance for face-to-face social interaction to enjoy a renaissance.
- Gen Z holds their grandparents’ values, who were born in the 1960s and ‘70s.
- Society’s pendulum is swinging in the same path it has since 3,000 B. C.
“Non-Which Means” Statements
Now read each of these statements or facts without their meanings attached to them:
- Gen Z was born between 1995 and 2015.
- Seventy-seven percent of Gen Z prefer reading printed books, and 59 percent don’t trust Facebook.
- Thirty-four percent of Gen Z said they were permanently leaving social media, and 64 percent are taking a break because, “the platforms make them feel anxious or depressed.”
Doesn’t it feel distant, clunky, and flat when there’s no interpretation offer?
Connecting the Dots
“Connect the dots for your audience. Watch them sit up and pay attention.”
— Roy H. Williams
When you connect your audience’s dots, you give them the interpretive context they crave. You make statements or facts come alive by attaching their meanings to them. You could list these facts one after the other and move on with your presentation. But if you want to engage your audience, you must do more than regurgitate information. You need to make your points by attaching meaning to them.
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