Sometimes I think I can do anything. I think I can do everything, all at once, at the same time, and give my equal awesome best to all those things. This is what I can think I’m doing when I check Twitter during dinner, draw while watching TV, update this blog while people are talking to me. Sorry what? Were you talking to me? You know the scenario. I was totally listening, I promise you …
My children coined the phrase “nanamuffin moment” for this. Once I zoned out of a conversation and zoned back back in at what I thought was the sound of my name. The conversation went like this:
Daughter – “Banana muffin?”
Me – “What? Oh yes, totally. That’s what I’d do.”
Daughter – *stares*
Me – “What?”
Daughter – “One, I wasn’t talking to you. Two, I said ‘banana muffin’ and you answered to it. Three … you weren’t listening, were you.”
Me – “Um …”
Now, the relevance. Sometimes we are so sure we know how a conversation is going to go that we stop listening. We stop even pretending to listen. We spare the odd nod or sigh or affirmation to indicate we’re still engaged and contributing, but eventually we slip up and it’s obvious we have had neither the courtesy nor the capacity to pay attention. And we can ask for something to be repeated if it was important, and if we’re lucky it will be, but we’ve lost something even more important – the trust of the other party. They now know we rate them lower than cat pictures on the Internet.
This applies to family, to friends, to colleagues … and to projects. If you’re working with a partner organisation and you forget to pay attention to what they’re telling you, possibly because you have too much else going on or because what they send you isn’t really your area of expertise, you can lose the detail and rely on your ability to skim and judge the tone of what you’re getting. As long as everything seems good, that’s fine.
Right up until it’s not fine. Not fine at all. Another week slips by and you still haven’t replied to that email, chased up that invoice, written that job specification? In public sector land this is ok because each week, each month bleeds into the next and stuff moves on eventually. It can take several months just to get something approved. If your partners are in a different sector though its not ok. A month without payment is a long time to a small supplier. A week without a response is a long time to a charity who needs to get something set up for the half term event. The public sector wobbly-wobbly timey-wimey anomaly could well be responsible for putting people out of business in the past, and certainly doesn’t help to get things done.
And apart from that, it’s just plain rude.