This past weekend, while playing golf with my friend Doc Hardy, on the par five 15th hole he hit a perfect drive, a great second shot and hit his approach shot to around 20 feet from the cup. The 15th hole is one of the toughest greens to read, a hill on one side and a lake on the other, it slopes precipitously to the water – to make things worse there is a mound in the middle where they must have buried an elephant. So, I didn’t believe there was anyway Doc could make that birdie putt but he drained it, dead center of the cup. He was so exited that as we walked off of the hole, he pointed at the hill and said let’s both purchase lots and build homes up there.
The 16th hole is a short, par four with around a 50-foot rise from the tee to the green. Doc hit a poor drive that ended up behind a small oak tree. His next shot hit the tree and dropped straight down; his third shot traveled about 10 feet and things got worse from there, as he finished the hole with a triple-bogey. A dreaded ABFU: after birdie foul up.
It’s a common happening for a golfer; you shoot like a pro and then the next hole you play like you’ve never held a golf club before. What’s the difference? Focus. You get excited, lose focus and before you know it you are in trouble.
Over my years in business I have developed what I call my “red-flag warning.” Mentally, I picture a flagpole and when I hear someone say something important, I envision a red flag being raised. When I see that red flag I focus intently on not only what is being said but also who is speaking it and how the thought is being expressed. If the speaker is present, I have also learned to pay close attention to their body language.
We have all heard the admonitions about the importance of listening but seldom are we exhorted to hear. Hearing is about focusing on the speaker: listening to what is being said; paying attention to how it is said and observing the body language of the speaker. Hearing means allowing someone to finish his or her opinion before interrupting or formulating a reply. You cannot understand a person’s ideas if you stop listening or if he or she is not allowed to complete a thought.
Sometimes people are focused but on the wrong thing. I had a sales representative who use to call on me. A great guy, his passion was his college sports teams. In the fall he would talk football, winter basketball and spring baseball. When he called on me I would learn how recruiting was going, what happened at the last ball game and the amount of booster fees collected. What I wouldn’t hear about were the products he was selling. His focus on sports diverted his attention from making sales.
Not maintaining focus is another problem. A close friend worked for a manufactured home company. I have never known anyone to work harder to make a sale. He would cold call, follow up, send birthday cards, do whatever was necessary. I could tell when he closed a big deal because you would find him on the golf course or fishing. When he made the sale, he lost focus. Customer inquiries and cold calls could wait; follow up – no way. He would take his eye off of the ball and like my golfer friend he would suffer the dreaded ABFU – After Birdie Foul Up.
When communicating, in business and our personal lives, it’s easy to become distracted. That’s why the flagpole and the red flag are good reminders not to lose focus. When that red flag goes up, I know I need to listen and/or concentrate on the task at hand.
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter Drucker
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention… A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words”- Rachel Naomi Remen