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!

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