When you are at a noisy party or busy work networking meeting and suddenly hear your name mentioned in a conversation happening on the other side of the room, it is amazing how you can suddenly tune in and hear the chat, even though moments before it was just part of the cacophony.
This so-called “cocktail party effect” reflects our auditory system’s excellent ability to tune in to a single pitch of voice and distinguish it from all the other noise and both ears work together to detect exactly where the sound is coming from. The brain is always processing auditory information and like so many things concerning attention it is only when something is perceived as novel or interesting that it will tune in even more. Hearing our name is rewarding to the brain as is apparently hearing the word “sex” so attention will be directed accordingly.
Research implies that there are possibly gender differences in how we unconsciously attune to different sounds of threat too. Hearing a car alarm will wake more men up and perhaps not surprisingly a crying baby will wake more women up, even if they are not mothers.
Given that listening is vital for effective communication, I find that it is not a leadership skill that gets as much kudos that it deserves, unless you have professionally trained in coaching of course! For example, how I ‘actively listen’ in a coaching conversation is very different to an everyday conversation, although maybe the gap is becoming smaller.
Distractions, multi-tasking, interruptions, stress, tiredness and simply not being that interested in the person or subject all affect the quality of our ability to listen and really hear what they other person is saying. After all, “they never listen to me” is a frequent complaint in work and personal relationships. Perhaps you have experienced this.
So I would like to challenge you to assess how well you REALLY listen to your team, partner at home, friend, parent, child and even the shop assistants in your life and discover whether it is a skill that requires some more attention so that you can contribute to what it is like to feel really heard and help others to achieve brain friendly peak-performance. In addition, you may find that as you choose to listen more powerfully, others may well do the same for you too.