We are not encouraged to listen well. Pace of life, an obsession with outcomes, and genuine concern for our own interests and performance all conspire to degrade our ability to listen properly.
Perhaps you have to listen well as part of your job, or you want to give full attention to your children and loved ones, or maybe you simply want to do better in life? The need for effective listening has never been greater, and it is worth thinking about. It is the central pillar of effective communication but equally its most neglected aspect.
Feeling unheard is also at the heart of many personal and social problems, but I have no time for that here.
Factors that conspire to interfere with our ability to listen to others effectively are:
Pressure and pace of life
The modern pace of life and attitudes to ‘getting things done’ emphasises outcomes and results. Listening is a process which produces results, of course, but this is best done when the focus is on the process… the outcome sometimes has to wait.
When we are in a hurry we are less likely to slow down and listen patiently and deliberately. This is not obvious, but when we do it actually take LESS time overall, not more.
The media are highly effective at getting the message across. Whatever it is, those savvy media professionals know how to hone it so we hear it. This curbs our need to gather information and analyse, to think critically about what we are hearing and to enquire. Listening means interaction, but we are being trained to become passive recipients, rather than listeners
Our own attitudes and beliefs can also play into the the mix of factors that inhibit effective listening. These subtle aspects are not usually things we think about, but they affect how we interact with others and the time we are prepared to give them.
Put bluntly, if ‘I’ am the most important person on my life, why would I take time to listen to ‘you’? Societies which are increasingly individualistic and self-interested do not encourage good listening habits.
It’s not that we don’t have time to listen, we do. But because effective listening must first be learned and them applied deliberately, you might think that to listen properly – which simply means giving the person and the situation our full attention – is laborious and time consuming.
Done properly, it isn’t.