Great conversations require both active listening and thoughtful response. In public settings, such as networking events, awards dinners, even a crowded pub or restaurant, I often fail at this task. Why?
Well, it’s about distraction. The word “distraction” first appeared in the 15th century and comes from the Latin distractionem meaning “the drawing away of the mind”. I love how concisely this definition describes what happens to me when I’m speaking to someone in a busy place.
First, I get distracted by movement. My peripheral vision takes in people arriving and leaving an event and unless I remain vigilant, I will automatically turn toward the movement. Second, and perhaps no surprise, I get distracted by colour. If a bright yellow dress or a bold pink shirt appears in the room, I’ll look at it in admiration. Third, I get distracted by noise. This can be anything at all – laughter, hushed tones, surprise – I’ll be tempted to follow the sound. It also applies to conversations around me – perhaps a topic I’m interested in or a news item I haven’t yet heard. Suddenly my mind will be drawn to follow that conversation instead of the one in front of me.
Finally, I get distracted by my own mind, particularly in meetings and group discussions. I’ll start following my thoughts about an issue and briefly tune out the conversation around me. Often, when I rejoin the conversation, everyone has moved on to a new topic.
So, at parties and events, I can come across as … rude. I make people feel unimportant or even abandoned simply because I’m so distracted.
All this brings me to the reason I cherish and champion phone conversations. With the phone, I can create a distraction-free zone whether I’m on my cellphone at the airport or landline in my office. It is as if the weight of the phone in the palm of my hand draws me in, keeps me focused on the words and sounds and rhythm of conversation. I turn away from the bustle around me or my computer monitor, I grab a pen and paper and, whenever possible (my final touch to enjoying a conversation) I have a cup of coffee nearby.
While I certainly can’t say that all of my fabulous, intimate, life-changing conversations have been on the phone, I’m confident that at least 50% have been – with clients, with family, with friends. I encourage you to give it a try. Find a spot to settle in and call someone. Discover (or re-discover) the absolute pleasure of a great phone conversation.
Enjoy your phone work, everyone!