Everyone who learned how to read in first grade probably remembers the name of his or her first book. My very first book was called “Pug”. Back then, I didn’t know what Pug was, having reconciled it was just the name of someone’s poorly drawn cartoon dog. Little did I know the pug was a breed of animal whose distinctive features are (a) having a face that looks like it ran into a brick wall repeatedly until it ‘stayed that way’; and (b) snoring so loud they’re used to trigger avalanches on mountains passes in the winter.
While I may not have noticed what Pug was, I certainly took notice of the words in the book. It was my first attempt at reading, and I wanted to take in every word, even if it was “See Pug. See Pug run.” The lesson here? I still remember the words in that book that I first read over 35 years ago. I read the book as carefully as a new reader can, learning to sound out his words and absorb the material at the same time.
As an accomplished reader today, I am much more likely to skim an article for relevant content and leave the chaffe behind. While this technique works well when you’re reading a novel and the author has decided to embark upon a 20-page backstory of some minor character, it doesn’t work as well when you’re reading for comprehension or understanding.
The results of this habit fail us most often when we’re reading instructions or trying to make sense of a complex idea. Who wants to read instructions? They’re boring, and we can put that computer desk together without them anyways. Well, maybe this is true, and in that case, you’re affecting no one but yourself when you realize you put the legs on upside down.
In our work lives, however, almost everything we do touches someone else in some way, good or bad, for better or worse. When we receive some information from a co-worker, we instantly classify it as important, not very important, or whoops, I never got it. We tend to do this based on how close the information we receive is to our skill set or our particular job. If the information is a subject we don’t understand very well, we are tempted to ignore it.
As satisfying as that may be, I’ve got to believe someone sent you that information for a reason. If nothing else, review the information as if you had sent it yourself and expected someone to understand your instructions. While our time is limited and another email from the accounting or tech department might seem a tedious chore, someone took the time to communicate. Give them a few minutes back, and you may find a time savings in terms of time spent troubleshooting later with a little extra effort up front!
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