by Steve Adubato, PhD
Being a great communicator often requires being present, focused and in the moment. It requires that you avoid multitasking or thinking that you can be efficient by texting, tweeting or talking to two people at the same time.
Simply put, being a well-rounded and effective communicator requires a degree of concentration and commitment to great listening. But ultimately, you have to care about the other person.
When you don’t, you often pay a heavy price — missed opportunities, misinterpreting information or sometimes turning people off to the point where they turn away or confront you in a very public and embarrassing fashion.
Consider just last week, when soon-to-be-canceled CNN talk show host Piers Morgan was interviewing popular fellow talk show host Chelsea Handler on his program. Apparently during a commercial break, Morgan decided he would tweet instead of engaging in conversation with Handler. Ignoring her, he communicated via social media, which those who follow Twitter know that he does on a regular basis.
How do we know about what happened during the commercial break? Because when the program resumed, Handler confronted Morgan saying, "You can’t even pay attention for 60 seconds. You’re a terrible interviewer." Handler was criticizing his tweeting and his unwillingness to converse with her during the break.
Morgan immediately responded in a defensive fashion, saying, "Well, you just weren’t keeping my attention."
The quick-witted Handler was now fired up and, with no smile on her face and through gritted teeth, said, "That’s not my problem. This is your show. You have to pay attention to the guests that you invited on your show. It doesn’t matter how interesting I am. You signed up for this show."
Things got really awkward after that, with Morgan saying it was the guest’s job to keep him interested and engaged. Finally, the awkward, on-air exchange ended this way, with Chandler stating, "Well, maybe that is why your job is coming to an end." Ouch.
The video has now gone viral, with headlines like "Chelsea Handler sticks it to Piers Morgan," and all of this because the on-air host didn’t understand the importance of being truly present. Either he wouldn’t or couldn’t care enough to show interest in his guest not to tweet.
But Handler is right. It was not her job to keep Morgan interested. The same thing is true in a sales meeting. If you are trying to engage a prospective client and he or she bores you with their conversation, is that an excuse to start texting or tweeting?
Of course not.
That’s even more reason to be engaged, find some common ground and move the conversation in a direction that is more relevant for both parties.
Of course it’s hard work, but that’s what being a great communicator is all about — concentrating when the other person says things that lose your interest. You must then ask open-ended, probing questions that get the best out of him or her.
It is easy to be present and engaged when you are talking to someone whom you find fascinating and immediately connect with. But the really great communicators care enough to do what is necessary when they are in a conversation with those who are more challenging to connect with.
The key is being present, because as soon as you check out, bad things happen. Just ask Piers Morgan.