I bet you’ve had this experience. You know, you’re talking to someone and they nod their head at the appropriate times, and from their facial expressions you gather that they are giving you their full attention. So far so good. Then at the conclusion of your point, they ask a question that baffles you because it would appear that while they were listening, they didn’t appear to hear you.
I’ll give you an example from my own experience by way of illustration. I often make it a point to introduce myself to job-seekers who are working independently on their resumes. From a quick look at the work they are doing on a computer, I can generally tell if the resume they are crafting is likely to produce the hoped for result of generating an interview for them or not. I often end up sitting down and explaining the things I’m recommending, and almost always they actually do realize that the suggestions I’ve made improve the overall document. Like I said, so far so good.
It’s at the conclusion of this process that I get surprised. After saying several times that the resume should be specifically made for a single job, and then revised each time a new job is applied to, they will often say something like, “That makes sense. So how many copies can I make?”
At this moment, I want to ask them why they want 20 copies of the resume if they just a few minutes earlier appeared to understand that a new revised resume would be required for each job they are applying to; but I don’t. After all, I figure that I may have just given them 20 or 30 new bits of advice and ways of marketing themselves that they previously hadn’t been aware of. To expect others to ‘get it’ entirely is not always a fair expectation on my part.
Truth be told, I can’t think of a specific example, but I’m willing to bet that there are some people I deal with who also wonder about my own comprehension when dispensing advice to me. In fact, my neighbour might speak to this. He’s a Roofer by trade and is a fast talker as well. He launches into stories about the various clients he deals with and almost all his stories deal with clients who just don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to their own roofing needs. While he’s talking he may name 10 people – many by first name only – and assumes I know who he’s talking about, but I don’t. Then later he figures I’ve got this fantastic memory for all the names of these people and recall their various parts in his stories. My memory isn’t that good either.
At work, I’ve had my colleagues debrief with me when finishing up with an especially challenging client. Sometimes I entirely understand the frustration my colleague is feeling. Other times though, I also see the exact moment in the retelling of the interaction when I myself would have ended the interaction, but my colleague didn’t give up.
I believe it’s critical to read your audience and check to see how much what you are saying is sinking in. At some point you’ll reach a saturation point. To continue providing new information; no matter how excited you are personally to provide it to them, well, it may just be a wasted exercise. The problem if you got to that point wouldn’t be the person’s ability to grasp what you are saying, but rather your own failure to say less and walk away satisfied that the other person learned something.
We all have different abilities, limitations, capabilities and attention spans. While you might have the capacity to take in a large amount of information and retain most of it, others you work with may have the ability to only retain a small amount. If you can figure out what someone is really after, what would be most helpful and walk away satisfied that they got what they needed most, be satisfied with that. After all, you can always invite them back to continue your conversation and give them more ideas and suggestions at another time. If they want it, they’ll come back.
Now of course, if you are fortunate enough to work in a setting where you see clients and customers on a continual basis, you can dispense information over a period of meetings. If the customer or client is likely to only interact with you once, or very infrequently, best to perhaps limit your investment in time to what might help them most in the here and now.
By way of example here, I’ve sometimes been asked to do up a resume for someone I’ve never met before who needs a resume immediately. If time allows, I do so and hope that as I go I can talk about why I recommend the things I do over other ways etc. But if that person isn’t interested in what I’m saying and their body language and words just screams that they don’t really care, why would I drone on? Not much chance of getting through that ambivalence.
So be patient and read your audience. Give them an opportunity to take in whatever they are capable of and check for their understanding and retention. Sometimes say less. And from time-to-time, take your own advice that you would give others.