The High Cost of Half-Listening
“But I did not want CREAM CHEESE on this bagel.”
The woman’s voice was so sharp that I picked my head up from my work and looked over to where she stood at the counter in this coffee shop.
“I asked for butter, not cream cheese,” she said.
The counter girl looked startled. “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I toast you another one?”
“It was the last one,” the woman sighed, “So, no. That won’t work.” She shook her head and walked out the door, holding the little white bag away from her slender body, like it had the “cooties” that we, as children, had heard so much about.
After she left, I could hear the two counter girls discussing the incident.
“Oh, I think I know what happened,” said the taller one. “When she said to me, ‘I don’t want cream cheese-“
“I heard ‘cream cheese,’” said the shorter one. “And I put cream cheese on her bagel. Oh man, I screwed up.”
They went back to making coffee and ushering carby treats across the counter.
It was a simple mistake, but emblematic of what we all do in this very connected and very distracted society. We half-listen as we multi-task. Now, we’re getting better at realizing that multi-tasking is a problem and not a solution, but we’re still not very good at making the decision to single-task. And so we make these simple mistakes, like giving cream cheese to someone who clearly is not jonesing for some tasty white paste.
Here’s something else we do: we auto-fill people’s sentences. We think we know what they’re about to say and so we say it out loud or in our minds, and we wander our attention away from what is being said to us so that we can get back to saying.
Us, us, us. We are obsessed with ourselves. Our computers and phones auto-fill our sentences to save us time, so why shouldn’t we try to auto-fill conversation? Well, because that’s all sorts of presumptuous and just plain wrong. You’re going to miss a lot if you assume.
But we are busy people, and mostly we don’t change until we feel forced to change.
Today, it’s only a bagel with cream cheese instead of butter. Tomorrow, it might be something far greater.
Half-listening is dangerous—in business, in love, in life. Try hard (desperately hard) to kick that habit.
Still, it’s easy to say, harder to do. So, the real question is this: Can you accept this challenge in your life? Or did you even hear all of what I said?