Do you listen to talk or listen to listen?

Something I’ve noticed more and more over recent years is that most people listen to talk rather than listen to listen. Confused? Let me try to explain.

In any conversation, it’s vitally important to give the other person our undivided attention. To be genuinely interested in what they are saying and take in every word. To listen fully rather than be distracted by phones or what is going on elsewhere. To look for body language in addition to the words. To better understand what the other person is feeling and how best to respond. To use our own body language and gestures to show that we’re fully engaged. To respond when appropriate. Basically, to show some respect and common courtesy. I call this ‘listening to listen’. Being in the moment and taking in every word and gesture to better understand the other person and what they’re looking to get from the conversation.

It’s a depressing fact but most people these days (certainly in my experience) listen to talk rather than listen to listen. Most people don’t really consider everything that is being said by the other person. Most people are just taking in some of the words at a basic level whilst thinking about when and how they can steer the conversation to something they would prefer to talk about, or thinking about when they can next check their phone, or what else is on their to-do list for that day, or what is for tea later. Most people let their minds wander.

Before people feel the need to jump down my throat (I’m aware this may be a slightly controversial post and may touch a few raw nerves), I don’t believe this is an intentional move on the part of most of us. It’s a reflection of the world we live in these days; a world where attention spans are incredibly short and we have a wealth of options at our fingertips. A world where people are jostling for attention amongst a deluge of information and social media posts. A world where people might just feel a greater degree of comfort and belonging if they can talk about something close to their heart, rather than listening intently to others. A huge amount of us crave attention, whether intentionally or unintentionally. We crave likes, shares, and comments on our social media posts. We crave the confirmation that others are acknowledging us and we’re not getting lost and becoming anonymous in a world where so many people post every minute detail of their lives online for others to see. We crave the knowledge that we’re more than just a number – that someone out there remembers we’re still here; that we’re still relevant and important to someone else. The world we live in absolutely increases the everyday anxieties which I wrote about last week (you can find that post here ) and we try our best to combat that on a daily basis, even if it means unintentionally becoming a little more self-centred than we used to be before social media took over the world. I’m sure most of us are guilty of this to some degree.

And what about those all-important ‘real’ conversations we have with people? What if that person is trying to reach out but in a really understated way? What if they have an issue or problem which they need to speak to someone about but they’re looking for a gentle way into that discussion, rather than just getting everything out into the open? What if they need someone to pick up on a slight nervousness or some low-key negative body language and explore that further in order to have what may be a ridiculously important discussion? What If they simply need to feel reassured that they have someone truly looking out for them and investing time in them, rather than listening at a basic level whilst thinking of a million and one things they’d rather be doing, or places they’d rather be?

So, which camp do you believe you fall into? Are you a listener who listens intently; with empathy and understanding; with a desire to give that person your all and respond accordingly, simply because it’s vitally important to do so? Or are you a listener who listens to talk and take a conversation off on tangents to ensure you’re firmly in your comfort zone or, worse still, to cut a conversation short so you can get back to your latest Netflix binge watch or scrolling through the latest Facebook posts, Instagram feeds or Tweets? None of us are perfect but just being a little more mindful of this can make a huge difference to the quality of our ‘real world’ relationships.

As always, thanks for reading and take care.

Mick

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