The living dead

One of the things that frustrate me about modern life is people with earphones stuck in the ears all the time. In particular, people with earphones walking in crowded places like railway stations and busy streets.

Why? Because they are switched off, in a world of their own. Like zombies. They are completely unaware of what is going on around them and seemingly unable to walk in a straight line. This means they are completely oblivious to the people like me who are trying to get past them and get on with my business as they wander aimlessly and slowly through life. There are times when I would happily smash them over the head with a cricket bat or decapitate them with a Dire Straits LP a la Shaun of the Dead. (I’ll spare you the clip, I’m really not a violent person).

And we also have to contend with people who do it at work. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some old fart who doesn’t get it. My iPod goes everywhere with me. Music was my first love and it will be my last, as the old John Miles song goes (Google it if you are under 40). But I’m not listening to it all hours of the day. Work is work.

My problem with it is that people are just tuned out. Sure, some jobs are mind numbingly tedious and require little thinking or interaction with others. But for those of us in the corporate world, we learn most by being aware of our surroundings, hearing the conversations, interacting. We went open plan for a good reason all those years ago!

Many people miss out on so much because they are not listening. Just doing the task. Faced with someone at a desk listening to music whom I need to talk to, I’m tempted to just leave them to it and not bother. It’s their loss.

Last week’s #NZLead discussion on Twitter hosted by Anne Tynan was all about disability in HR. Many of us confessed to the fact that we’ve never worked with or recruited anyone with a disability into an HR team. However, one of the contributors to the chat is a deaf HR practitioner, but she also has never come across any other HR people with disabilities.

And that got me thinking about how lucky most of us are to have eyes and ears that work and how much we take it for granted. But even when we are not seemingly impaired, some people may as well be.

Too many of us at work listen selectively or only hear one thing. We aren’t open to all the other discussions that are taking place around us and that shape our thinking. We aren’t listening to the important messages from our workforce, our colleagues, our customers. We are easily influenced by the loudest voice, or the most recent opinion.

And that’s criminal if you work in HR. You need to be actively listening to everything. Everyone’s view is valid, it’s their version of the truth after all. The trick is sorting out what’s really important amongst all the white noise. And you can’t do that if you aren’t “in the room” as it were.

The greatest tools we have in HR are our eyes and ears. Use them well.

8 thoughts on “The living dead

      1. Reece Notton says:

        Right on the money Richard – and I am old enough to know that song!

  1. Amanda Sterling (@sterling_amanda) says:

    I’ve worked in open plan for years and love the informal conversations that happen as a result. However, when I need to get things done that require me to focus for an extended period of time I stick my earphones in (usually classical, occasionally gangster rap). One of the downsides of working in open plan is that it can often be hard to concentrate. I’d be cautious of judging people for wanting to get their work done and there should be a balance.

    1. hrmannz says:

      Not sure I agree Amanda. Work is a social thing and listening to music is very anti-social. Like having your door closed if you had an office. Sure, we all have times when we need to concentrate but some people do it as a matter of routine. Every day!

  2. fiharland says:

    I know we didnt participate in #nzlead last week .. but John was interviewed on Attitude in 2012 as he employed a lovely young man into the recruitment industry with a disability. Apart from that .. I agree with open plan – having ears on allows us to pick up & support each other. Im a terrible active listener some would call it nosey.. but it does help me connect with anyone, any where, any time… and I love good conversation and to hear other ideas and you never know when the info you gather can help someone else. just at the right time.. Good post Richard

  3. Tash says:

    I agree Amanda. It’s all well and good to say that no one should ever listen to their headphones while working, but there are times where I can’t stand the constant talking and chatter that happens around my pod ALL DAY! When I need to write a report or get through something that requires me to actively think about, music helps me do that. Sometimes it’s not about downing out the noise of my surroundings, but actually music helps me concentrate. I notice everyone around me, and the way I sit at my desk I can instantly see if someone is walking up to talk to me and I quickly take my headphones out ready to listen and help them. Work is social yes, but there comes a point where the constant talking and small talk becomes counter productive and actually just time wasting. I don’t do it all the time, but when I do, I actually need to otherwise I won’t get anything done. I miss having an office because I use to have my radio on which helped me work. When I constantly hear people talking about other random things it’s distracting and very frustrating when it’s never ending. I do understand that the people that do it constantly all day everyday, but that shouldn’t ruin it for those who do it occasionally to get things done.
    And for listening to my iPod while walking on the street or on the bus, it’s because I don’t want to listen to other people’s conversation and I just want time in my own head while either prepping for work in the morning or winding down on my way home. People texting while walking and not paying attention – that’s a different story all together.

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