Are You Suffering from Chameleon Syndrome?

“The Art of Conversation is the Art of Hearing as well as of Being Heard.”
~ William Hazlitt

Picture these scenarios:

You’re in your office hard at work on your computer, and one of your direct reports strolls in.  She stands in front of your desk, begins to outline a problem she needs your help with, and then sits down to wait for your comments and guidance.  Since you’ve always had an open door policy with your team, this type of unscheduled visit is not unusual, so you don’t react negatively to the interruption.  Continuing to type, you glance up, acknowledge her, and begin to respond to her issue.  After a few minutes of back and forth commentary, she thanks you and heads out the door.  Then back to the screen for more emails…..

Later that same day, you head out to the production floor to see how the troops are getting along. Phone in hand, you walk over to the first team member you see and say hello.  He smiles and looks at you, whereupon your phone rings and you continue asking him how he’s doing while you speak with the caller, too.  Then you answer a text while continuing to supposedly have a conversation with the person in front of you, then after a few minutes of pretend conversation you head off to check on some other folks.

Let’s be honest – you’ve probably been in one or both of these engagements many times.  And for some strange reason, you continue acting this way, day after day.  Many people call this the “Chameleon Syndrome” where we fancy ourselves being able to do what only a chameleon can do – focus in two directions at once.  Some call it multi-tasking.  Call it what you will, it certainly isn’t active listening.  It’s not treating people with dignity and respect.  Let’s call it inattentive behavior, or just poor leadership.

Since we aren’t chameleons, we should stop trying to be one and learn to focus on one task at a time. Here are some techniques you can start using right away to practice and perfect this key leadership skill, and become a much more effective listener:

  1. When you’re in your office and someone comes in, turn to face them and deliberately move your computer screen away so you can’t see it.  Even better, if you have a separate table in your office, go over to it so both of you can talk without your desk being in between.
  2. When you’re out on the floor or in any other environment where you’ll have a standing conversation, deliberately take your phone out of its holder, turn it on mute (or off), and set it face down if you have a nearby surface.  Don’t pick it up or look at it for the remainder of the conversation.
  3. When conducting meetings, either collect all of the cell phones at the start or require a “face down policy” for them during your meetings.  Believe it or not, the organization will survive for the duration of the session without any of you texting or answering emails.  That’s even more true if you have an agenda for the meeting, and a time limit, and you respect both.

The effect of these simple steps will be immediate, and lasting.  You’ll make better decisions because you’re more focused.  Your team will feel much more respected and you’ll make far better use of your time and theirs.  The most effective leaders are great listeners.  Focus on becoming a much better listener today.  Far better than being a chameleon!

Enjoy the journey!