While running a workshop with a group of international sales people, I asked the group to pair up for a listening skills activity. The catch was that one person had to spend five minutes solely asking questions – no statements – about the topic that was least interesting to them from a list of the other person’s hobbies.
Many of the questioners found the conversation to be surprisingly interesting, and went on to gain new insight into their partner’s personality. And of course, the partners who had the chance to explain their hobbies and passions absolutely loved the attention! The five minutes passed quickly, and I had to interrupt all these flowing conversations to move back to our group debrief.
As we came together to reflect, one pair that had ended their talk early caught my attention.
“Well, I guess I just wasn’t interested in his hobby in the first place,” explained the first salesman. “I tried to follow the exercise, and asked a lot of questions. I really tried to show interest, but he didn’t give me a lot.”
The second salesman responded, “Well, I could tell that you were sort of pretending, so I didn’t share much.”
The first salesman was genuinely surprised, “Wait, did that really show? Wow, I didn’t realize. I thought I was doing a good job masking it.” (Awkward laugh)
This exchange led to an lively group discussion about “fake listening.” The group consensus was that they all had sensitive radar for the verbal and non-verbal cues of pretend listening.
I’ve sometimes deluded myself into thinking that the other person doesn’t realize I’m giving less than 100%. Have you ever told yourself these types of lies too?
1. Overestimate your ability to fake engaged listening.
She can’t tell that I’m reading something else during our phone conversation.
If I ask all the right questions, he will get so wrapped up in his own talk that he can’t tell that I don’t care about his answers.
I know how to interject with “really?” and “tell me more” at just the right time to keep them talking.
2. Underestimate the cost of pretending to listen.
It’s actually more efficient for me to do two things at once.
As long as he gets to say his part, it really doesn’t matter. I’m getting all the information I need.
Is it possible to fake engaged listening? Is it worth it? Why do we still do it?
red alert photo courtesy of rykerstribe