Multitasking takes its toll on focus

With the average human attention span now shorter than a goldfish, it's no wonder communications experts are advocating active listening – the ability to tune into the moment to the information being relayed to you.

Communication expert Kim A Page says that in an age where people are 'bombarded with information' what they really crave is communication that is tailor-made. Victor Besa for The National
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It is quite possible that your atten­tion span is actually shorter than that of a goldfish.

Microsoft surveyed 2,000 Can­adians and used electroencephalograms to study the brain activity of 112 participants. While in 2000 it found the average human attention span was 12 seconds, by 2013 it had reduced to only eight seconds – one second shorter than a goldfish.

Microsoft attributed the atten­tion shortfall to “media consumption, frequency of multi-screening and social media usage”.

On the plus side, the IT giant found that tech adoption and social media usage are training consumers to become better at processing and encoding information through short bursts of high attention. But sadly, this advantage erodes over time.

“We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention,” says Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive.

Which is why some experts are encouraging employees to adopt active listening.

The UAE-based communication expert Kim A Page says that in an age where people are “bombarded with information” what they really crave is communication that is tailor-made.

“Information doesn’t have any status any more because we keep Googling everything,” she says. “The most important skill today is the capacity to tune in and ask ‘what does this person need to know and what is relevant to them?’ We want to feel like someone is listening to us.”

Microsoft’s research found the most addictive technology behaviour falls in the 18 to 24-year-old age bracket.

Ms Page says she sees dwindling attention spans in younger clients she trains in Dubai.

“Some in their early 20s have such a hard time focusing because they grew up with all this technology,” she says. “We have learnt to be in the middle of an email while surfing the internet, checking Facebook, then tweeting something, and all this time going back and forth on screens. Inevitably our ability to focus has gone down.”

q&a a good listener goes far

Communications expert Kim A Page tells Jessica Hill about the benefits of active listening:

What are the advantages of active listening?

You find out the unique information about a person and his or her needs. That is gold because you can then tailor whatever message you have so that it fits them. You also have the double advantage that the person you are listening to will want to work with you.

What can you do to make it easier to tune into what someone is saying?

Before a meeting or important call, just take three deep, slow breaths. There are lots of important breathing techniques, but it doesn’t matter which one you use. This then silences the clutter in your brain and helps you to focus.

How does actively listening to someone make them feel?

People start relaxing and you can see it. When they understand that you’re actually proactively feeding back to them what they’ve said, it makes them feel like they’ve received something very special. They will then remember you.

Does active listening also apply to the online world?

There is now an abundance of information, and so much of it is badly written. Before writing to someone, go back and view the last two or three emails you have exchanged, to make sure you’re not missing something. If it’s a relationship of some importance, then make an effort to comment on something that they have written, like a holiday they had; it shows you’re listening in writing. People notice that.

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