Hello?Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?
Do you ever feel like when you are talking to people – whether it’s in person or on the phone that they are not listening? I was chatting on the phone with my daughter earlier, she had called me; when after telling her a little tidbit of info, I was met with complete silence. Hello? Hello? I knew the line hadn’t dropped out because I could still hear something on the other end of the line.
“What? What did you say again? Sorry, I got distracted by something on my screen.”
Communication comes from the Latin word communicare, meaning “to share”. Thanks to my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Frank Smith, I always look at the root word when trying to fully understand words. Communication is a two way street, although I find that these days more and more people seem to think it’s a one-way street. People are more concerned with making sure their points are heard than actually giving the effort to actually listen to someone else’s thoughts or ideas. The key to all effective communication is listening.
Listening is a huge part of the communication process and should not be confused with hearing. Hearing is defined as “the faculty or sense by which sound is perceived.” So as long as you don’t have a medical hearing impairment – hearing is an automatic physical process. Listening on the other hand is completely different. Listening requires focus and concentration. It’s the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. It’s not a passive process and a good listener is as engaged in the communication process as the speaker.
Today, sadly, too many people don’t know the difference between hearing and listening. “I hear you” is not the same as “I’m listening to you.” I’m sure many people think that they are indeed listening, but they actually are not. In some cases, people are simply thinking about what their response will be once you’re done talking – that is, if they are polite enough not to interrupt you in order to get their point across. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the average person’s speaking rate is 125-175 words per minute compared to the average processing rate which is 400-800 words per minute. So that leaves plenty of time to daydream and get distracted by your own thoughts or something completely not related. FOCUS PEOPLE. This is one of the biggest barriers to effective listening.
Too many times while visiting with friends or family who we don’t see all that often, I notice everyone has their phones in their hands while they are talking. “I’m listening – I’m just multitasking”. “I have to check my email – don’t worry I’m listening.” “I’m just playing a word game, keep talking – I’m listening.” how many times have we all heard this. The listener isn’t being an active participant in the conversation if their phone is in their hand. I’m equally guilty of this when hanging out at times. I’ve been accused of “not being present” because I had my head in my phone while claiming “I’m just looking at my Instagram feed!” Guilty as charged.
Listening serves a number of purposes given the situation and the nature of the communication. According to the website skillsyouneed.com one of the eight purposes to listening is to: “to specifically focus on the message being communicated, avoid distractions and preconceptions.” (I think we need to teach this specifically in schools because no one out there gets the second part of this statement.)
Let’s break this down, I think most people would agree that when you listen its for the purpose to hear someone ‘s message being communicated. But its the rest of the statement which people don’t heed: “avoid distraction and preconceptions”. Wow! Where to begin… I already mentioned the cellphone being a major distraction which I think most people would agree is an obvious barrier to effective listening in all of our lives. But let’s focus on this other part, the “preconceptions”. I don’t think very many people actually listen with an open mind. People have their beliefs and that’s that – my way or the high way. Or so it seems more and more these days.
The second and third purposes of listening is “gain a full and accurate understanding into the speakers point of view and ideas and to critically assess what is being said.” Wait a minute, this is particularly where for me listening deviates from hearing since when you hear something it’s just automatic, when you are listening you have to know take that information and actually processes what is being said.
The fourth purpose of listening includes the power of observation. When you listen to someone you should be looking at them, observing the non-verbal signals accompanying what is being said. This enhances your understanding of what’s going on.
Fifth on the list of purposes of listening, is to show interest, concern and concentration. If you have ever been a public speaker and stood before an audience – big or small, or even if you are talking to your best friend – there is nothing worse than talking to the top of someone’s head because their attention is more on their phone than what you are saying. which leads to the sixth reason which is to encourage the speaker to communicate fully, openly and honestly. Something which can be difficult if you think the people you are trying to talk to are not fully present.
When you are “multi-tasking” while listening to someone else, you are being selfish, rather than taking a selfless approach, in putting the speaker first. Lastly, one of the biggest reasons for listening is to be able to arrive at a shared and agreed understanding and acceptance of both sides’ views. This last reason proves to me that no one in politics actually listens to one another.
This year I am trying much harder to put my phone down particularly when I am around my family and friends. Emails can wait and certainly word games can be played in quiet moments when I’m alone. When I go out I may have my phone with me in my pocket or purse, but I keep it put away so I’m not distracted nor tempted by it. It’s really the only way to fully listen and pay attention to what’s going on around us. So next time you are talking with a friend and you notice that you are looking more at the top of their head than their eyes, you’ll know they aren’t really listening to you.