The Art of Active Listening: The Gorilla in the Room


There was a study done a while back where a group of people were asked to watch a screen and count the number of times a basketball was passed back and forth between two teams.  The task required a high amount of concentration. During the test the researchers had a man, dressed in a gorilla costume, walk into the middle of the court, stand for a few seconds, beat his chest, and then walk off. Amazingly only 50% of the people watching the video noticed the gorilla. The rest were so intent on counting the ball being passed that they didn’t see the gorilla. It turns out that when performing a task that requires concentration our brains respond by filtering out information that doesn’t pertain directly to the task at hand.
I started writing this as a memo to the Upper Valley Aquatic Center staff to point out an important skill associated with providing good customer interactions.  Just about every business talks about how they are focused on customer service. But when American consumers are asked to rate customer service the general consensus is that it’s not very good, with some exceptions of course. But I realized that it has broader implications for all of us to improve our interactions with our children, spouses, and friends. So I thought that I’d share it with you. Good customer service begins with “active” listening. So does being a good parent, spouse or friend.
On a personal level I know that I have messed up opportunities to have a more meaningful interchange with business associates, customers, and my family because of missing the obvious signals. I missed them because I was concentrating too hard on a project that I was in the middle of, how I was going to respond, or what I wanted to get out of the conversation. So I missed what they were actually saying.  I frequently have to remind myself to look for the “gorilla” when interacting with people, especially someone who is uncomfortable or could just use some extra help. If we all get a little bit better at listening I’m sure that our lives will be enhanced. All of us at UVAC are working on improving this skill.
 By Upper Valley Aquatic Center’s Executive Director, Richard Synnott
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