Concentration is an Undervalued Virtue
If you’ve ever been in a courtroom or watched a courtroom drama on TV or in the movies, you will have seen one member of the court whose job it is to capture everything spoken and transcribe it into written form in order to produce the official transcripts of the proceedings. This is the court reporter or stenographer.
One of the most important qualifications for this position is the ability to listen, to focus completely on what is being said, to concentrate only on the immediate proceedings: to be in the now. This is harder than it would seem. How many of us have been in meetings where our minds start to wander, where we get side-tracked and start thinking tangentially, where we jump ahead or behind or alongside the topic that is being discussed, where we miss important information because we lost focus on what was being said at that moment? How many people took meeting notes that were incomplete? I know from personal experience that I’ve missed whole sections of meetings because I was thinking of other things that, while they may have been important, were not necessarily germane to the subject at hand. I was not focused on the now. And hopefully I was not the one taking the official meeting minutes.
When you give yourself over to listening, completely and wholly, when you focus on the speaker, completely and wholly, you will not only hear all of what they have to say, you will also learn much from what they aren’t saying through their body language. There is much to be learned from the unspoken and the speaker’s physical presentation. Are their arms folded and legs crossed? This indicates that the speaker is closed to the discussion. Are they making eye contact? Are their eyes shifting to the left (lying or inventing) or are they shifting to the right (recalling). If we’re so intent on trying to be smarter, more insightful, more intuitive than the person with whom we are speaking, it means we are focusing on ourselves and not on them, so we miss important parts of the discussion. We are not really listening.
The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” With some people this lack of focus shows in their anticipating what the speaker is going to say and finishing their sentences for them rather than waiting for them to complete their thoughts. This is both disrespectful and invariably wrong. You are not a mind-reader so you have no idea what the speaker is going to say. It also tends to annoy the other person which is not really the object of discussion and it puts up barriers.
So be in the moment; focus, concentrate, listen with your ears and your eyes … and don’t piss me off. For the record, my father was a court reporter.
Margaret J. Vaughan has more than 30 years’ experience in all facets of supply chain management, serving most recently as logistics manager for Wood PLC where she worked for 12 years.
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