Are you a good listener? Have you ever thought about that?
True listening is a selfless act. It actually requires us to put ourselves aside for that moment – our opinions, our wandering thoughts – and really hear what the other person has to say.
I’m self-lecturing here because I am the worst at this! I’m not proud to admit it (especially given that my name, Samantha, literally translates to ‘listener’ in Aramaic…damn) but honestly, I struggle to enter a conversation and really hear the other person the entire time. Often I’m half listening and half formulating my next response in my head… even while the other person is still speaking. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the only one.
Stephen R. Covey has said that “…most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Ouch. Isn’t that true for many of us though? We’re so keen to jump in with our story, our opinion or our experience – whatever is loosely related to what the person in front of us is saying – that I think we often miss the opportunity to make genuine connections with people.
Covey’s observation seems even more relevant in this strange era where many of us are more inclined to send someone a text rather than speak to them over the phone (Pew Research Centre 2010), and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are making many of us confident to say things online that we probably wouldn’t dream of saying to somebody in person! Joel A’Bell summed up that same issue on Twitter earlier today:
I find the digital platform gives too many of us a false sense of security to say things that would never hold up face to face!
— Joel A’Bell (@joelabell) July 25, 2016
It’s the same culprit for the rise of cyber-bullying, in my mind. Cyber-bullies or ‘trolls’ have the advantage of anonymity, and it takes less courage to attack a person (or a social group, or a race, or a religion) when you aren’t looking them straight in the eye.
That aside, I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate too long on the impact that mobile phones have on the way we communicate…or the way that we don’t! I find that you can visit just about any cafe or restaurant nowadays (at least, here on the Gold Coast) and easily find 2 or 3 or more people sitting together, staring in silence at their tiny little glowing screens.
Real conversation is becoming a lost art, and much to our own detriment. It seems as though our generation are as stubborn as ever, as set in our ways as ever, jumping to conclusions quicker than ever… and instead of letting our opinions form organically based on conversation and discussion and different types of information, our opinions are formed quickly and without much sign of receptivity. I just wonder if it’s got anything to do with the fact that we just aren’t willing to listen to each other.
Bryant H. McGill says ‘One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say’, and despite my own struggles in this department at times, I’m inclined to agree with him.
If we really want to respect each other, we need to start listening.
I’m not just talking about putting down your iPhone for a minute – but actually putting down your assumptions, your judgments and your ‘pre-planned’ stories or responses, and inviting the person in front of you to share instead. Assume they know something you don’t! Be present. Take it in. Then respond.
It’s not easy. Listening takes effort, and your time and energy are, in my opinion, some of the most valuable things you can give to a person. But that’s exactly what proper conversation calls for.
I’m making it my personal mission to get better at this thing. If not for myself, then out of respect for my fellow humans! I hope you’ll join me. x