“Are you listening?”
This is one of the most common questions that someone will be asked during their relationships, whether familial, romantic or professional. Our efficiency in communicating is very poor. We focus on talking, not listening.
This phenomenon starts early in life. As my communications professor once pointed out, think about parents: from the time a child begins to babble, parents are ecstatic and try to get their kid to utter words and phrases, and they glow with pride at their child’s accomplishments, as they should.
However, soon the child is able to speak, and once they reach this milestone “they never stop,” my professor said.
The emphasis is on one-way communication (talking) rather than two-way (talking and listening), which means the child is not taught to listen.
Unfortunately, learning skills are focused on much later in life. The concept of active listening was introduced to me in second grade, well after my ability to speak had developed. This creates an imbalance in our communication and makes it more polarized, one-sided communication.
This imbalance can be seen in how many people communicate. Have you ever been at a gathering or party and everyone was talking louder than the next person so they could tell their story or make their point? Ever seen someone interrupt a conversation to interject their opinion? Rather than politely allowing the speaker to finish a thought, the other person jumps in with their own thoughts. Many people consider these sorts of behaviors to be rude.
Hearing and listening are two different things. Hearing is the sense we possess, with the ability to tune out background noise. Listening is actively concentrating on what another individual is saying and processing their communication fully.
In an article titled, “11 Ways that Active Listening Can Help Your Relationships,” published March 13, 2012, Psychology Today reported that social media might play a role in the lack of ability people have to maintaining their focus. Though ordinarily people are able to maintain their concentration for 20 minutes before requiring a change in stimulation, the fast-paced world of social media and technology has the effect that many people can only maintain focus for 20 seconds.
The article goes on to explain the social aspect of poor listening. There is a correlation between individuals with poor listening skills and poor social skills overall, as being a poor listener is associated with poorer social and emotional sensitivity.
Of course, correlation does not indicate causation. There could be other factors at play, such as our individualistic culture, where me comes before we, or the fact that we must maintain a marketer’s perspective on ourselves for school and work. Either way, it remains a well-known fact that people
love to talk about themselves.
Listening is an ever-evolving skill. We hone our listening skills in the workplace and in higher education. But rather than beginning to focus on it in later years, we should address it in schools and at home at an earlier age. Are you listening?