Paying attention at a cocktail party

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“You’re not listening to me.”

If you have said this to someone (or if they have said this to you.. eep!), it probably means they were not being an active participant in the discussion. The person may have been hearing you, with the sound waves going into their eardrums, but not actively listening. Listening is paying attention, absorbing information, reflecting back what was said, building on and responding to what the other person is saying.

The “cocktail party effect” in social psychology says we do have the ability to focus on one thing at a time and drown out everything else – provided it holds our attention.

We are at a very large cocktail party in the Information Age, with noise coming at us from all directions, and many channels competing for our attention. We have to be selective with our focus – is it the person in front of us, the music, the dance floor, our own thoughts, or that person walking around with those teeny bacon-wrapped things on toothpicks?

In these conditions, I’m sure that hearing vs. listening happens a lot. At the same time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to gather information from our customers and supporters and really listen to them.

This leads to two critical questions.

Are you listening to your customers and supporters or just hearing them?

If you have a customer service phone line, email support desk or, more recently, social media feedback team, and collect information but don’t do anything with it, you’re hearing, not listening.

In the noise of profits, revenues, budgets and strategy, it is easy to forget about the voice of your fans and supporters, whether they are giving you positive or negative feedback. This is a shame, because they are offering you plenty of clues as to how to keep them engaged, and ultimately, keep their business. So listen, and then (and this is key)… do something about it!

If someone at your party likes their martinis shaken, not stirred, then shake them! Especially if it’s this guy.

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The end result of strong listening should be taking necessary action.

Are your customers really listening to you?

The cocktail party effect also says that something will grab our attention if it is meaningful for us (like our own name or someone screaming “FIRE!”), even if we are focused on something else.

So while infovores run rampant these days, it is possible to grab their attention for an important few moments.

To move from hearing to listening, the message must be extremely relevant. Rather than just getting louder and more frequent (read: SPAM), make the messages better. This is the key for a strong elevator pitch – you must be able to answer the question that all of your audience will be asking – “Why is this important to me?”

If a partygoer shouts “The spring rolls have gone bad!”, then I think anyone who cares about their own wellbeing will be raising an eyebrow because it impacts them.

Don’t compete with the noise, cut through it with extreme relevance. They are sure to listen.

Party on.

Constant Questions: How can you ensure you are really listening? How do you ensure your message is relevant? How can you successfully get through with all of the random stimuli out there? Do you hear what I hear? Did you hear it through the grapevine? Whatever happened to the California Raisins?

PS – Speaking of cocktail parties, this holiday season, or ever really, don’t drink and drive!

PPS – If you’re looking for some great cocktail party tips for that upcoming work or personal event, check out Paul Nazareth’s awesome post about holiday networking.

One thought on “Paying attention at a cocktail party

  1. Pingback: FBO – Why charities need it | Constant Changes

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