Although there is a lot of noise around us and enormous amounts of chatter, people are less tolerant, less able to listen, and I think less able to express themselves. I have noticed my youngest daughter is sometimes difficult to talk to because she fires questions at me in shorthand and when I ask her to explain, instead of going back over what she has said, she launches off on a new tangent in the hope that this new information will give me the information that I need. This just leads to confusion and I feel like giving up. Instead, I go back over the conversation and try to put each piece of information into context so that we can get to the answer that she needs. This is very time consuming.
What I have noticed over the past maybe 15 years or so is that more and more people talk at you, not to you. They don’t listen to what you say and in the worst cases, (like someone at a call centre) will respond with a standard question no matter what you ask them. The other thing that happens very often is that the person you are asking the question of starts to speak over the top of you like they can’t wait for you to finish speaking. Very often, I have to tell people to stop speaking over the top of me and wait for me to finish. They are often startled by this and sometimes don’t even realise that they have done it in the first place. Many are so eager to jump in and answer your question to get rid of you that they haven’t listened to you in the first place. Or they are simply so used to only listening to small amounts of information they feel the need to (tweet) interject after only a couple of seconds. I think that there focus is on what they are going to say next rather than listening to what I am saying now.
I have also observed that if you ask someone multiple questions in an email, they are very likely to answer the first one of two, leaving the other questions unanswered. This means that I have to resend the email to them to get a response for the other questions. In a worst case, this could take some time and a number of resent emails. I find that the best way to handle this is to say in the first sentence of the first email something like – “below I have outlined ‘x’(the number) questions and wish to have a response to all of them”.
Maybe this is because, as Julian Treasure says, ‘we have become desensitised by so much noise and information that it is harder to pay attention to the quiet’. Treasure talks about ‘listening to live’ and as he says in his TED talk, this desensitization is a disturbing and serious issue. When people don’t feel that they are listened to, they experience a whole range of emotions ranging from confusion, through frustration to the anger and extreme violence. I am constantly amazed to see footage of men shooting guns in the air amongst chaos as some way of either protesting or celebrating an event. Apart from being incredibly dangerous (like where do all those bullets end up), it completely shuts out any ability to connect to the silence, the inner feelings and emotions of the person who is trying to make sense of the situation, whether that situation be happy or tragic. I believe that much of the escalation in violence that we see is related to a lack of social listening skills, and connection to other people. People are becoming more and more isolated, separated from each other by a lack of intimacy, a loss of real person-to-person connection and the ability to listen. We are losing the ability to have conversations that are meaningful, that connect with each other on a deep rather than superficial level, instead we are just ‘contacting’ each other through noisy words.
For many people silence is uncomfortable and that silence must be filled with some noise or some activity as soon as possible. But it is in the silence that we often find the answers that we are looking for, its where we connect to our own feelings and those that others share with us. It is how we get to know ourselves and others and it is vitally important that we teach our children to not only be able to listen, but to be able to appreciate silence.
When I was in high school, I had an argument with a teacher when I told her that hearing and listening were not the same. She told me that the two things were the same, but they are not. You might be able to hear noise; you might hear your parent, teacher, or partner talking to you that’s for sure. You know that they are talking, you can hear the noise coming from them, but that does not mean that you are listening to them.
TED Talk by Julian Treasure – http://on.ted.com/Treasure11