Do we hear or are we listening?
Hearing – it’s what we do naturally, often without having to put in any effort. But listening…really listening, does not come natural to many, if you ask me. To really listen, asks for more awareness and attention and real presence.
As the definition goes, Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound.” Listening, on the other hand, means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.” So, no, – you can’t tell somebody “I’m listening” while you are on your phone, busy doing something else, keep interrupting by changing the subject. If you do that, your attention is somewhere else and you’re distracted. Or, worst case not even interested to hear what is going on. In those situations you might hear yes. But…let’s be honest, even that isn’t always the case – and, yes, you definitely are not listening!
Am I alone when I say that listening has as well to do with respect? So, when you say “I’m listening” do so, don’t do something else on the side. The other person will notice your distraction – even through the phone – believe me! And, if you are in a video call and on screen and start to take out your phone and type away, then that does neither show respect, nor interest.
To listen, gives the person who is talking time and space, too. Time, to express, to think out loud, to share thoughts, ideas, feelings or emotions. And I do believe that pauses are part of the listening process, too. One does not have to immediately jump in or change the subject just because the other person takes a little breather.
Now, I’m not saying that each single discussion needs to have this deep listening focus.
And, yes, I think, we are all guilty of the one or other distraction while we talk to others. And we can still listen by doing some other things – if the activity we do does not require too much focus and attention.
But, yes, I certainly do believe that many can do better. It seems to me, that many are mainly present. Hearing the voice as a sound, neither taking up nor paying attention to the content or the bigger picture.
Isn’t it kind of (frustratingly) funny that we are being told “Yes, I’m listening” and yet things are being done differently, directly after, as if the discussion never happened? Or, when you share something and just moments later what you shared is being repeated as the others persons idea or thought? “Hello, I just said exactly that…?!” “You did? Oh yes could be…” And are you finding yourself in the middle of sharing something and the other person jumps in with a totally different topic? Or the head-nodding and distant look out of the window, seemingly deeply listening, yet, when you follow up comes “Sorry what did you say?” And don’t we all know the situation when you are in a conversation and the counterpart takes out the phone?
I trust we all have been receivers of such (re)actions. How did it make you feel? At times, I find it a bit hurtful. And it often leaves me wondering why I even bother to share my point of view, my feelings, thoughts, ideas, emotions – and let alone, time. It just doesn’t seem worth it.
With all this, I don’t mean the other person has to agree to what I was saying, no, not at all. One can have meaningful discussions and talks where both parties do indeed listen and then agree to disagree. No harm done in that. Much the opposite – one had a great discussion! But what it comes down to, for me, is respect.
And – there are times when our mind is just busy with something else. Or we are feeling drained. Don’t have the headspace or are in the mood to really listen – that is ok, too. But then, don’t pretend, be honest and say it.
So, if you keep in mind that hearing is rather accidental, effortless and a passive process. And that listening is a process that is focused, intentional, with concentrated effort – then, what are YOU doing most of the time when you find yourself in a conversation?
Find your ease – wherever you are,