Hearing and Listening
What matters most to you in a conversation, having your say or understanding the other person? Sometimes it just boils down to what we feel we have time for. In the hectic rush of daily life, our personal agendas often rule out deeper listening in favor of general hearing.
We’ve all noticed how the vocal level in a conversation can go up when there are more people in the room. Multiple voices vying for attention add up to louder volume, and that in turn drives the volume up more. We can hear the wall of noise but listening to the words of a conversation is a lot more difficult. It’s made even more so by the fact that often we only have so much emotional energy and brain space to take in other people’s words. Listening well requires we give over our attention to the speaker and consider the words being said. It takes more than just volume to gain our attention. And that’s just the first step.
It’s More Than Just Words
Giving over attention means we choose not to be distracted by our own thoughts or the surrounding environment. Listening is a big commitment in a society that is demanding we do so in every aspect of our lives. Whether we realize it or not we’ve developed mental hierarchies to help us decide when to listen. At a basic level we listen for our survival first. Think about this when someone asks for a few moments of your time!
Often we’re listening not so much to understand what the other person is saying; rather we have our own purposes. Are we talking about a promotion here? Is it a social occasion for pleasantries or a place filler so we aren’t alone? Are we catching up with friendly activities or getting a referral for a new plumber? Are we seeking like-minded people or are we looking for new ideas? Is it a serious quest for guidance or an opportunity to air grievances?
When you go into an interaction understanding what you want out of it, you increase the possibility you will walk away again feeling satisfied, not frustrated. Even small interactions of daily life can be made more pleasant with a different tone of voice and a moment of attention.
You Don’t Listen!
Listening is for learning- about the other person, about your inner self, about the world around you. We all have to modulate how much we take in so we can weigh what we’ve heard. In other words, we need to be discerning, and go beyond reaction to critical thinking. Being open to different points of view takes more work than just confirming what you already believe.
When someone says, “You don’t listen” what they may really mean is, “You’re not obedient.” That’s likely to be true any time after the ages of 8 and10 when our ability to think critically begins to develop. If we praise individual thinking how can we complain when others take a different view or choose not to follow our advice? We need to use communication skills to demonstrate our understanding of what is said while we each reserve the right to form our own opinions and take our own actions. How we negotiate with others on this takes a lot of self-control. It’s hard to watch someone go down a path we would not choose for ourselves. However, in an environment of openness not only will the conversation be richer, a deeper connection to the other person can evolve.
Stepping back is often at odds with the endless media push towards consuming more and more. Without time to digest or to draw inward to have our own thoughts, we can’t calm the anxiety of inaction and our modern minds spin.
Being here to hear but not staying to listen is a symptom of our times. Can you hear me now?
All photos Claire Mauro