Are You Out or Are You In?
Reasons You Tune Out in Conversations and How to Tune In, Instead.
Have you ever been halfway through a meeting and realize that you’ve been completely tuned out? Of course you have. We all have.
But what about tuning out in a situation that is much more important. Have you ever found your mind wandering when you’re in a 1 on 1 meeting with one of your team members? Or maybe you’ve completely tuned out when running through details of an important new project.
It’s understandable that we would mentally meander when we’re disinterested in the situation we’re in, but it’s concerning that we also tend to tune out even when the circumstances we’re in are important. Why is that?
On The Surface
Our ability to pay attention and be consistently engaged in conversations is limited by a vast number of factors but many of these aspects are within our ability to control. Factors like being well-rested, having too much on our plate, or not being emotionally “there” are all things we can control.
Below are some “surface-level” reasons why we tune out of conversations and some quick fixes to these causes of our inattentiveness.
Our modern-day lives are filled with an overwhelming number of distractions. Our brains are constantly bombarded with notifications, emails, phone calls, and other stimuli that scream for our attention.
Making sure your cell phone is on silent while having important conversations is obvious. But you should take it further and turn off notifications from your computer, office phone, and anything else that will distract you. Consider closing your laptop altogether during meetings and using the tried-and-true pencil and paper for taking notes.
Removing distractions is critical to engaging and connecting with the person you are communicating with.
Yeah, stuff is boring sometimes. That’s life. But your boredom may have other causes beyond whether or not the topic is interesting. Maybe the topic being discussed doesn’t align with your personal beliefs or values. As interesting as the subject may be, if it doesn’t speak to you, you’re going to struggle to engage.
If you’re in a situation like this, instead of tuning out and mentally leaving the room, think of the people who ARE engaged and consider why they are engaged. Turn on your superpower of curiosity.
Ask yourself these questions:
This is just the tip of the iceberg here, but if you turn your focus outward with a sincere desire to understand, then you’ll be able to use the subject matter to better your circumstances instead of just wallowing in your own misery.
Late nights and packed schedules are no help when it comes to staying energized. And coffee and sugar can only get you so far. Make sure you get enough sleep. You’re not in college anymore so 4 hours per night won’t cut it!
If you struggle throughout the day even with a solid 7-8 hours, try to discover patterns in your physiology and plan your day around it. For example, if your energy comes to a screeching halt around 3:00 PM, make sure you wrap up all your important meetings by 2:00. That way you’re always fresh when you need to be.
Maybe you could take your meetings outside. If the weather is agreeable, grab your team and grab some chairs and get out in the sunshine. There may be additional distractions to combat but a change of scenery may be beneficial in ways you hadn’t considered before.
There’s lots you can do to combat fatigue, but the best defense is sleep. Make it a priority.
The Deeper Issues
As mentioned before, it’s normal that we tune out in situations that bore us, but how is it that we tune out even in situations where the stakes are high? You may be well-rested, distraction-free, and interested in the topics but your mind may wander still. If this is the case, you may have a deeper issue that is pulling you away from the situation.
Consider your emotional state. Positive or negative emotional states can play a role in our ability to remain focused during conversations. If we’re feeling anxious, depressed, or triggered in any way, we may struggle to stay focused and engaged in conversations.
No one can compartmentalize their life 100%. We’re human. To some degree, our emotions WILL affect our decisions. If you’re in an emotional state that is not conducive to productivity, connectivity, or openness, it’s best that you postpone whatever meeting or discussion you have scheduled. There’s no reason to push through an opportunity to communicate with someone when you aren’t in the emotional state to make it a positive experience.
Sometimes, our thoughts and worries can get in the way of our ability to focus and be present in conversations. When we’re overly self-conscious or consumed with our preparation to respond to what we’re hearing, it can be difficult to fully understand and stay engaged in the conversation.
In The Humanized Leader, there is an acronym that explains how to remedy this. The acronym is HUIR.
H – Hearing
U – Understanding
I – Interpreting
R – Responding
It reads, “If you are honest with yourself, you are likely to jump directly from H to R and skip the understanding and interpreting. As you prepare your response to the noise you have heard, you forget to listen to understand fully what is being said.”
Seek to understand and interpret what you hear before responding in conversations. Omitting these two steps ignores the connection-building aspects of listening and being engaged in the conversation.
Lack of Connection
When we don’t feel a connection with the person we’re speaking to, conversations will come off hollow or meaningless. A lack of connection may occur when there’s a lack of rapport or when the person we’re speaking to doesn’t seem to be truly interested in what we have to say and vice versa.
In some cases, interpersonal issues get in the way of the most basic communications. If you don’t believe what the person is telling you because of distrust or broken promises in the past, you’ll have a greater tendency to tune out.
When we don’t trust, we don’t listen.
Fortunately, creating strong connections and putting effort into our communications can reestablish and build trust. Use the steps listed above to build your listening skillset so your ability to connect will be strengthened. Put forth the effort. It’s worth it.
Wrap It Up
Connecting and listening is the key skill of humanized leadership.
All issues that arise from tuning out of conversations revolve around the connection we have with the person we are communicating with. When we have communication issues, it’s because our connection with the person has been broken. It doesn’t matter if the connection is broken by something external or internal.
Remember that tuning out is not something that happens to us, it’s a choice we make. We must CHOOSE to connect when we have the opportunity to do so.
Mary Pat Knight is CEO of Leaders Inspired – an executive coaching and consulting agency devoted to the development of emotionally intelligent leaders. She is also the author of the Amazon #1 International Best Selling book, The Humanized Leader.
The ground-breaking new book, The Humanized Leader: The Transformative Power of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership to Impact Culture, Team and Business Results, is now available in Kindle, paperback, or as an audiobook. To get your copy – or extras for your team, click the button below.