A Silent Killer Of Professionalism

by Paul Castain on September 4, 2013

Do you remember that goofy test to see if you follow instructions?

It starts off with a clear warning to read all the instructions before beginning.

Then it has you doing a series of things like “stand up” “go to the door and knock 3 times” “march in place” then you get to the final item that reads “do none of these things, just hand in this paper”.

I think we desperately need this test more so today because most of us absolutely suck at paying attention to details, instructions and just paying attention in general.

Before you deny it, let me offer a few examples.

Have you ever received an email response from someone asking you an unnecessary  question  because the answer was in the previous email they obviously didn’t read thoroughly?

Did you ever catch yourself about to send one of those yourself? Or maybe you didn’t catch yourself?

Doesn’t exactly make you look like someone who pays attention to details, does it?

Doesn’t exactly give one a great deal of faith in your ability to listen and comprehend what’s being said let alone, be their advocate when it comes to catching something that could hurt them.

I went back a reread a message where someone told me that the afternoon on either Wednesday or Thursday would work for them to catch up with a phone chat. Being the rocket scientist that I am, I respond with “Sure, how’s 9:15 or 10:45 for you?”

You don’t know this, but I was hanging my head feeling like a dumb ass sharing that with you but . . .

It also wastes time, no?

By the way, I see this all the time and it appears to be getting worse.

I see it on LinkedIn discussions when people don’t read the questions in group discussions thoroughly (admittedly, being the human that I am, I’ve done this too)

Speaking of LinkedIn, one of my group moderators put up a note saying that one member’s comment was deleted because it violated our “no self promotion” policy. The moderator was specific and even used the person’s name who we shall call “Johann” “Matilda” then responds with a “Hope that wasn’t me, if it was, I apologize”

I can’t fault “Matilda” for doing this because maybe her maiden name was “Johann” but most people would look at “Matilda’s” comment and shake their head. That isn’t an isolated incident, by the way, I see similar exchanges all the time in numerous groups.

I put up a post in our Facebook Sales Playbook community about the branded thank you cards I use. I offered to send one to anyone who emailed their street address to me and I even gave them my business email to send it to.

Guess what happened next?

I get a bunch of people responding with their email address right on the Facebook page.

So how the hell do you send a hard copy, handwritten card to an email address?

But wait . . . there’s more!

I go back into the discussion thread and remind everyone that it’s a handwritten card that needs to be sent through snail mail.

Do you think anyone read the additional instructions?


So here’ the point . . .

You and I send and receive lots of messages each day.

We are surrounded with lot’s of “noise” and distractions so . . .

We scan things and communicate on the fly and . . .

We probably multitask while communicating.

In the process, we’re missing details and in many cases disconnecting with people because they’ve caught us!

Perhaps we should slow down and fight our urge to reply instantly.

Perhaps we should give the sender of the message our undivided attention?

And perhaps we need to communicate more clearly as the sender of these messages knowing that the average person will most probably miss important pieces to the message.

Please weigh in with your thoughts . . .

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  • Brenna Lewis

    Guilty. Thanks for the reminder!!! I get frustrated when people don’t read my emails entirely- so why then is it okay when I do it to them?

  • Kristi Duvall

    Paul – quite the timely post! Yesterday, I posted a discussion on LI about this to my company’s private group. I mentioned that if everyone listened more, the company could be so much more productive. If people would practice the art of perspective-taking, it would be a game-changer.

  • Adam Aurich

    I am in the transportation industry. I participate in a few linked-in groups. A lady asked a industry specific question on the group page. I answered my opinion and a potential solution with another company that I do business with that is based in the US. Only to realize a few weeks later…that the LinkedIn group was for Transportation Companies in Europe. Now luckily…I only looked like a complete idiot in front of people I will never have the chance of doing business with, but I learned a lesson that day to pay closer attention to my audience. Sometimes we are so eager to help, we forget who our audience is and we waste their time and ours.

  • Lynda

    I chalk this up to the downside of technology. Many days I feel like I am a hamster on the little spinning wheel — going faster and faster “because we can” thanks to technology. Reminding ourselves to slow down and pause for mental clarity can be difficult — but so critical. Thanks Paul.

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    Well said Lynda!

    Thank you!

  • Dave A

    Guilty as charged, though I have been more careful these days. I have sent a response and then afterward, reread the message, quickly sending a new response, with an apology, when I realized the information the person REALLY wanted! I should probably re-read the messages first from now on!


  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    You and me both Dave!


  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    Thanks Cathy!

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    I agree Jim . . . It can become a huge time waster!


  • Garth R

    I couldn’t agree more. One of my more frustrating peeves is that in the engineering field I often have to ask several questions to address customer requirements. The problem is that so often If I ask 2 or more questions in an e-mail, I will usually get an answer to one only. Then I have to feel awkward going back to ask again.
    I now have to construct numbered bullets to make if obvious there is more than one point to consider. This sometimes helps.

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    Thank you Don because now I’m going to research “blur”

    Much appreciated!

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    I’ve had to do that too Garth.

    Sometimes I hold back because I know they won’t answer more than 1-2 questions, other times because I know they are going to become fixated on one of the questions (especially if the answer is going to take some work).
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    Sure . . . it’s payback Brenna :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    Who would have ever thought that listening would challenge so many of us?

    Thanks Kristi!

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    It’s alright Adam. If if makes you feel better, I once bought microwave popcorn as part of a hurricane preparation kit.

  • Richie DeMarco

    Ok – so I stood up and knocked on the door 3 times… What’s next?

    Thanks for the great advice!!

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    I screwed up and knocked in the traditional “shave and a haircut” rhythm :)
    Thanks Richie!

  • http://locksmithelmhurst.org/ Elmhurst Locksmith

    Your last suggestion works well for me. My replies and emails are usually detailed and extensive. I include topics/issues that I have sent before to make sure that the me and the one I am communicating to is on the same page. I understand the many communications send and communicating clearly will reduce misunderstanding.

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain


  • marc zazeela


    There is enough evidence to support the theory that most people cannot multi task effectively. While they may think they are being more productive, the opposite is actually tru.

    I have been training myself to focus on one thing, complete it, and then move on to the next. Seems to be working, so far. I get stuff done and don’t feel so frazzled all the time.

    According to a recent BBC study, the average attention span 100 years ago was around 20 minutes. Today it averages 9 seconds.

    Lastly, Can we discuss this further? How about we talk sometime tomorrow morning? 😉


  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    Funny you should stop by Marc . . . you were the guy who sent me the email telling me you had afternoon availability and then I respond with two slots in the morning. DOH!

    I love that study by the BBC and first heard about it from our friend Sally Hogshead.

    Thanks for stopping by Marc . . . It’s always appreciated!

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