Information Underload

It is true that we are bombarded daily with what seems to be an almost infinite amount of information careening towards us at the speed of light. All sorts of communication swarm around us like bees buzzing around the honeycomb. Many are concerned that it is simply not possible to master all the information that we need to do business, even just to live well in our modern world. We are told that we have reached the point of absolute information overload.

Despite the realities of the information explosion, I once again experienced the reality that many people are even more afflicted by information underload and that the condition can be corrected by active listening, clarification and reflection.

Now, there are a number of definitions of information underload that can be found on the Internet, but in this case, I am defining information underload as the inability of a person to listen carefully to what another person is trying to communicate directly to them, and thereby missing the point and potentially important information.

This problem does not have as much to do with the modern marvels of communication as with the age old human condition. All of us, me included, have a tendency to listen with “half an ear” to what a person might be saying to us. Even before the other person finishes we are quickly drawing conclusions about what that person means to say to us, and how we are going to respond.

In a business setting, our response is often couched as a defense, as if we perceive that the other person is attacking us and we must defend ourselves. I once again experienced this yesterday while listening to a group of experienced business people listen to and offer advice to an entrepreneur. The entrepreneur had an answer (read defense) for every comment as if each of them were an implied criticism.

This is perfectly understandable, given that this entrepreneur, like most others in his position, is passionate about his new business. The downside is, however, that he also missed some really good information that was proffered by the gathered business people.

There is a simple process that you can follow to help alleviate the information underload that can occur in such a situation. Recall now, I said simple, not easy! To employ this process will take conscious effort, discipline, and perhaps some reminders from individuals that you trust. Here is the process:

  • Active Listening: concentrate on understanding what is being said, without forming a quick conclusion. Listen in such a way that you will be able to repeat back to the other person what they are saying to you.
  • Clarify your understanding: when the other person is finished, repeat back to them what you understand. Ask additional questions to be sure that you understand.
  • Take note of the information, once understood, for later reflection.
  • Thank that person for the information and resist the urge to explain your self further.

 Taking notes in this type of situation is very important, as it will give you the chance to return to the information later for further consideration. When you do, you can keep what you like and discard the rest. You never know in advance when, on second look, some of the information may turn out to be very valuable!

One thought on “Information Underload

  1. Kevin,

    Thanks for this excellent summary of active listening.

    Your point about active listening being simple, but not easy, is right on the mark. Even though I use active listening all of the time as a mediator, I often catch myself “half listening” in different situations throughout the day and in my personal life. It still takes a conscious effort to make sure I’m really listening, not just reacting, to what other people are saying.

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