Cognitive Capture, Mind Drift, and Biases


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During my seminars, attendees learn numerous relationship-building skills and one of the most vital skills is listening.  Unfortunately, our smartphones have diminished our ability to listen because of cognitive capture which is what happens when a person focuses mental energy on one issue, it can cause that person to miss out on other things.

The prime example of this occurs when a person focuses mental energy on their smartphone (hand-to-eye coordination, reading and comprehension) during a conversation.  There’s a good chance that the person fiddling with their smartphone is missing vital details of the conversation.

Cognitive capture can result in the most awkward moments.  A customer or coworker is speaking to you and your mind drifts off to la la land.  After a few seconds, you regain consciousness and realize that you have no idea what was said during the last few seconds.

This mind-drift experience can happen to almost anyone. Mind drifting (or mental wandering, wandering mind, daydreaming, la-la land, etc.) is a cognitive phenomenon in the brain wherein one’s attention becomes distracted from the task at hand and strays into unrelated thoughts.

Busy service professionals engaged in multitasking activities will experience numerous daily mind-drift moments.

The average person experiences mind-drift about 30 percent of their waking day. Much of this includes the typical daydreaming that might occur while driving a vehicle or taking a walk through a park. Mind-drift becomes a problem when it interferes with a service professional’s listening skills.

Five or 10 seconds of mind-drift, while a customer is speaking, can result in a loss of valuable information for a service professional. The best remedy is fearless and courageous listening behavior to ensure the message is heard, qualified, and understood.

When people think about listening, they assume it is similar to hearing. This is a precarious misconception because it leads people to believe listening is passive. Hearing a message is a passive exercise; but listening to a message requires mental energy, and this makes listening skills more active.

To fully understand a spoken message, a listener must hear, qualify, and understand what is being spoken.

HVAC professionals may get bombarded with multiple messages simultaneously, and this makes it almost impossible to listen effectively. In the midst of a multitasking and busy environment, service professionals must be fearless qualifiers.

Some adults are cowardly qualifiers, because they lack the courage to go the extra step to fully understand what is being spoken.

A person’s tendency to make assumptions is based on their own listening filter, which is a culmination of beliefs, experiences, and lessons learned. It is this personal filter that adds complexity to the listening process.

Because everyone filters words through their own personal bias, no two people have exactly the same meaning for words or expressions.

For example, the dictionary contains thousands of words; however, the average adult uses about 500 of these words most often, and each word can have multiple meanings. Biases will cause different people to interpret words differently—it is a subjective exercise.

Listening skills are diminished when a service professional’s bias results in a preconceived notion about others. Ask a female air conditioning technician if she has ever been the victim of gender bias, and she will answer in the affirmative.

Biases can be about gender, age, ethnicity, attire, where a person lives, the type of car a person drives, the way a person speaks, and so on.

In conclusion, HVAC professionals must minimize the negative impact of cognitive capture and maximize their listening potential.

Steve Coscia
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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