Why have we all stopped listening?

So here you are. Visiting another blog, reading another post, from yet another wanna-be blogger who apparently has something to say. But I’d like to ask you a question. Are you listening?

I read an article recently that suggested we are all losing our sense of listening, and it got me thinking.

Photograph: Feliciano Guimarães/Flickr
Photograph: Feliciano Guimarães/Flickr

It’s been said that we spend an average of 3 hours a day on our mobile devices. What are we doing for 3 hours a day on our phones? Well, if you’re like me, we’re consuming an immense amount of content. We’re reading emails, texts, updates from our friends, maybe a blog post or two (I made the cut!), and trying to keep up with the world around us. Oh, and throw in a side of games for good measure.

But what does the consumption of all this content have to do with listening? Good question.

What I’d like to propose is that when we are reading and consuming all of this information, we are not truly listening. But before we go any further, I think it’s important to ground ourselves, and gain clarity on the words we use, so let’s define the word listen;

: to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration
: to hear what someone has said and understand that it is serious, important, or true (source: Merriam-Webster)

Wait. Did you see that? What struck me is that listening requires something from the listener. When we truly listen, we give.

I think Wikipedia unveils a common misconception when it comes to the act of listening.

“Listening is often confused with hearing. While hearing is a process that can be scientifically explained, listening is a neurological cognitive regarding the processing of auditory stimuli received by the auditory system.” (source: Wikipedia)

Hearing is not listening. Hearing takes, listening gives. I believe we are becoming so conditioned to consuming or hearing, that we’ve stopped listening. I’d like to suggest some ways we can stem the tide of hearing, and truly become better listeners.

• Focus. Let’s be honest. In today’s day and age of distractions, it is incredibly difficult to harness enough willpower to listen to our colleagues, children or friends. Our phones are constantly ringing, vibrating and beeping, alerting us to the next email, text, like or tweet. The key is in removing the distraction. Many a meeting have I sat and watched participants reach into their pockets, get their phone and read an email while someone is talking. Let’s turn our phones off, or at least set them on silent (and that includes the vibrate function). I’ll also be the first one to admit scrolling through Twitter/FB while “listening” to my kids. Want to connect with the family? Let’s put the phones in our bags/purses.

• Give. This is one of the most important aspects of listening. When we are really listening, we are giving someone our attention. It is not a passive consumption of information, but an active participation in a friendship, or a meeting, or a family. When we give of ourselves, we are telling the others that we care. And isn’t that power of listening? When we give by sharing thoughts and ideas, we develop relationships through understanding. How do we do this? Eye contact. They say that eyes are the window to the soul. Let’s take the time to stare at them. It’s tough to argue we aren’t giving our attention, when our eyes are on the ones we’re listening to.

They say that eyes are the window to the soul. Let’s take the time to stare at them.(TWEET IT)

• Think. We are being conditioned. Tweets are less than 140 characters, texts are a few characters (or a couple of sentences if we’re lucky), and we consume these little chunks of information at an alarming rate. But regardless of how much information we can consume, I would deduce that we are not processing, thinking, or reflecting on the information to justify the word “listening”. We are not simply calculators taking in numbers and spitting out answers. We are people. Not only can we speak, but we can evaluate, weigh and consider what we hear. When we are truly listening, our responses will be relevant and understood.

Photograph: Castaway
Photograph: © Castaway/20th Century Fox/Dreamworks

Unless we find ourselves on a secluded island like Tom Hanks, we interact with people every single day. And I’m not talking about inanimate volleyballs named Wilson. I’m talking about real people just like me and you, that don’t just want to be heard, but listened to. Let’s make listening, the very thing that draws us all together, not be the thing we neglect the most.

Let’s make listening, the very thing that draws us all together, not be the thing we neglect the most.

Homework: Everyday for the rest of the week, let’s take each one of these suggestions to heart. You might find yourself in a meeting, or with a friend, or at home with the family. Use these tips and let me know how it goes. Connect with me Twitter at @jseevers. I’d love the feedback!

Find this article valuable? Share it with your friends and see if they’re listening!

We all need each other.

There has been so much coverage about the Ebola outbreak that I doubt one more blog post will provide any additional clarity or answers, but I think this needs to be said.

We all need each other.

Just this week, we’ve read stories about two nurses who have come down with the virus, and the outcry from many has been everything from the lack of protocol that was followed, or how they did not take necessary precautions, etc. And while I think we all agree that processes need to be in place to ensure that everyone is protected from a pandemic, we have a tendency to rush to judgement and forget that we are talking about people.

Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

NEWS FLASH: We are not infallible, we are human. It’s because of this very fact that we need each other. This is true in every aspect of life. Sports teams don’t win without teammates, businesses don’t deliver without coworkers and communities don’t stay healthy without healthcare workers.

For what it’s worth, I wanted to take a moment for us to consider a few ways we can talk about the issues that concern us in a manner that respects everyone involved.

• Public condemnation doesn’t solve problems. Solutions do. Listen. I get it. We all make mistakes, and some can be pretty colossal. But instead of resorting to public ridicule, we should offer solutions that will move us all forward. It’s easy to criticize from the sideline, it’s much harder to be in the game. We should be grateful our “I need a do-over” moments don’t end up as trending topics on Twitter for the entire world to see. We really need to see more of this;

• Remember The Golden Rule. Have we forgotten this little gem? “Treat others as you would like to be treated”. It’s such a simple and powerful reminder for how we should engage one another. Our rants are not likely to make the kind of impact that change political policy. We’ve all seen this friendly reminder;

• If we care, let’s say it. At the end of the day, we’re providing our commentary because we care. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t. Right? However, when we show that we “care”, the very word should invoke a sense of treating others with a certain concern or protection. Some would call that empathy. What does that look like? Exhibit A;

• Wrap your criticism. Some of the best critiques I ever experienced in college were the ones that included criticism wrapped in positive comments. It’s been referred to as the “feedback sandwich”. If we truly have something constructive to say, let’s wrap those pearls of wisdom with some positive, encouraging words. Trust me, if it’s authentic, it works.

• Realize we all have a heartbeat. Our lives are, and will continue to be, intertwined with people. We will continue to work with, play sports with and live life with…people. Let’s try extending grace to those we don’t understand, encourage those who’ve made mistakes and ultimately be the kind of culture that builds bridges instead of burning them.

What would it look like if we put these into practice? Let’s do it. Let’s see what happens. I guarantee you will see positive results. Did someone make a mistake? Encourage them. See a problem that needs fixed? Offer a solution. Have a critique? Wrap it with some TLC.

And to Nina Pham and Amber Vinson? You are the very nurses we should all want taking care of us. You think of others before yourself, exemplifying qualities that we should all be representing to each other everyday. We’re praying for your quick recovery.

Have some thoughts on the matter? Comments are free of charge.