Shaking IT Up: Preemptive Listening, a Tool of Tools
by Kevin Vandever
From the time they get out of bed in the morning until they hit the pillow at night, savvy corporate professionals live life at a tremendously demanding pace. It doesn't matter if they are married, single, or somewhere in between, they seem to move faster than the speed of sanity. But that's to the untrained eye. Those of us in the know realize that corporate professionals are more productive and efficient than their snail's pace counterparts. We also know that to succeed at such a pace, these professionals have to rid themselves of character flaws and replace them with attributes aimed at helping to win the day. One such positive attribute is preemptive listening.
You've probably heard the adage, "Listening is a skill." Well, although that statement may be true, it is not the whole story. What that statement doesn't reveal is whether or not this skill is worthwhile to learn in the first place. The statement by itself doesn't do anything to help us understand the various types of listening, nor does it place any value on one type over another. For example, we are taught from a young age to be active listeners. Sounds OK on the surface and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever confused this with a controversial subject matter.
But someone should.
If you take a closer look at active listening, you will see that it is, at best, a character flaw and, at worst, the potential downfall of Corporate America as we know it. The reason for this is because active listening involves listeners to sit idle while a speaker attempts to spew out a complete thought. Then, only after the thought is finally expelled and has been carefully processed by the listener, can the listener then speak accordingly. Wow. I can already see the profits slipping away. What's active about that process? Sounds like a lot of waiting around while other people try to convey their insignificant thoughts. What a huge waste of time. The more productive method of listening, and the one that the movers and shakers in Corporate America follow, is the preemptive listening method.
Preemptive listening is definitely a skill and one worthy of mastering. Using this method, an individual will listen only long enough to predict what the other person is about to say, then he will preemptively blurt out the prediction and finish the sentence for the speaker. Not only does this save the original speaker from formulating a thought, but it is an excellent time management tool that cuts to the chase and allows both parties to move on to other important business.
Those who don't understand the essence of preemptive listening or what it is like to be productive cogs in the wheels of Corporate America will claim that preemptive listening is nothing more than interrupting, which is rude and unacceptable. I agree. Interrupting someone is rude and unacceptable, and I can understand how the uneducated would confuse the two, but preemptive listening is no more like interrupting than merging onto the freeway is like cutting someone off.
An interruption takes place when one person speaks while another is speaking and many times the interruption has nothing to do with the original topic. Preemptive listening, on the other hand, allows one speaker to finish another's sentence, and is more of a merging of a conversation and not an interruption. The careless driver may cut someone off in an attempt to merge just as the less-than-skilled preemptive listener could conceivably interrupt the speaker instead of merging into his conversation, but that has more to do with the skill of the individual and not the technique itself. And preemptive listening is always right on topic because it allows the listener to understand exactly what needs to be said before the other person even realizes he is going to say it. Talk about a productivity tool!
So how does one master the art of preemptive listening? First off, you have to rid yourself of any active listening skills. Active listeners, while seemingly patient and respectful, are really cowards in disguise. They are afraid to take control of a given situation and instead listen while someone else says something that probably should not have been said or could have been said much earlier. The sooner you tune in to what you are going to say next and not what others are currently saying, the sooner you will understand preemptive listening.
Next, carefully watch for preemptive listening activities around you and learn from the experience of others. If you happen to witness a conversation between two seasoned preemptive listeners, consider yourself lucky because it is a thing of beauty and one of the most morale-lifting, productivity-enhancing activities there is.
Lastly, you must be quick on your feet and realize that your time is excessively more important than anyone else's and that there is no need to wait for the thoughts of others. You have to ask yourself, "What conversation needs to take place that I can't already predict and carry on with myself?" and when you can confidentially answer, "None," then you are well on your way to becoming a preemptive listener and subsequently a hero at your company.
It may seem awkward at first and you may stumble. You may falsely predict the thoughts of another and say something that was not going to be said by the speaker. Although this may seem like a mistake on your part, it is more likely that you saved the speaker from saying something stupid. Don't worry; an experienced preemptive listener will nod in agreement with you as if he or she were thinking the same thing. The active listener, however, will be confused as to why you finished his sentence in the first place before realizing that what you said was much more relevant than what he was going to say at which time he will nod in agreement with you as if he or she were thinking the same thing. It has happened to me.
I was once making a point in a meeting and left the slightest hesitation in my speech. A colleague was there to finish my statement for me. The problem is what she said wasn't what I was going to stay, but instead of challenging her in public, I nodded in agreement and changed my whole train of thought. At first I was angry, but soon realized that she had saved me from myself. My delay, ever so slight, was a message sent from my subconscious warning me not to finish my statement. This allowed my expertly trained colleague to swoop in and save the day. Had there been no one in the room properly trained in preemptive listening, I would have been left to say what was on my mind and possibly cause irreparable damage to myself and the company. It was then that I realized the power of preemptive listening. Not only do you increase productivity, but you increase morale in the workplace by making people seem more intelligent than they really are.
The good news is that preemptive listening is not just for the workplace. It can be, and should be, employed at home. My wife uses it on me all the time and each time she skillfully finishes a sentence for me, I am relieved and comforted by the fact that I am protected just as much at home as I am at work.
So don't waste any more time actively listening to others before waiting to say what was already on your mind in the first place. Get started right now on the path to preemptive listening. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your workplace. If you are already a preemptive listener, congratulations! You are truly a leader in your community and the envy of those around you. Take some time to help those less fortunate souls still hung up on active listening and get them on the right track so that they, too, can get on the fast path and become productive members of the human race and, more importantly, Corporate America.