Post No.: 0309
People seldom truly listen – they just talk, and talk over other people as if the person who speaks the most shall be inferred to have the greatest authority, or as if the winner of any argument is whoever has the last word. Many people lack good listening skills because when they’re ‘listening’, they’re not really giving their full attention to the speaker but their minds are focused on what they wish to say next, or they’re looking for the next moment to butt in and take the stage.
Most people want to share their own opinions far more than listen to the many more other opinions and ideas out there. Too many people also enter conversations in an adversarial rather than collaborative manner. Proportional to people’s level of ego, the priority is to make themselves sound cleverer than others, by giving advice more than taking it, by interjecting with their own views when others have not yet finished speaking, by judging more than reserving judgement and waiting for more information to be gathered first, and ultimately speaking more than listening in group situations – thus these people actually end up learning and knowing less, and are less in touch with others compared to people who truly pay attention, listen to others and don’t speak as if they’ve got more to say than to listen and learn.
For not listening, we won’t know what we don’t know that we could’ve known had we just listened more to the alternative views and ideas available, which ironically means that we’ll likely believe that we know it all or at least more than the people we constantly talk over.
Good conversations are not about ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ but sharing, collaborating and understanding that many minds working together tend to outperform any single mind thinking alone. The best approach to conversations is a collaboration of knowledge and views rather than a competition i.e. it’s about first listening without judgement, then pausing and thinking a little about what was said, and then replying; rather than not really listening but itching to get one’s own point of view across then claiming that one has ‘won the conversation’ by virtue of speaking the loudest, longest, last or by laughing off opposing views or people. People who do the latter learn nothing and only entrench their own possibly incorrect or outmoded beliefs, which in turn leads to insular echo chambers and divided politics.
Some people don’t naturally talk much but that’s not an invitation to dominate a conversation – it’s an invitation to ask for their views too. They’re not brain dead. They’re more likely to be the ones listening and processing the available information, and thus thinking before speaking. They say fewer words but each word tends to be more considered. And, extending on what I wrote in Post No.: 0274, “I don’t know” might be the best answer, not because the quiet individual knows less than others but because a topic is complex and that’s the best answer the current pool of combined knowledge can present without conducting more research; for which discussing conjectures and rumours at length cannot replace i.e. talk is no substitute for seeking or awaiting evidence.
So ‘it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for’ applies here because they are the ones who are seriously absorbing and weighing out everyone else’s information too. Those who listen the most will learn the most and will therefore logically be more informed than those who speak more than listen. This is true in espionage! If information is power then those who listen the most will gain the most power.
It is important to speak too though, especially for things you believe in and matter to you. Some people might be too shy to disclose what they uniquely know, hence a collaborative rather than competitive approach will help them to more confidently speak out to the group.
Conversations are always at least two-way though, even if one side is totally silent – the listener always provides non-verbal feedback to what is being said. So even if a listener is shy and doesn’t want to speak much, a speaker can pay attention to the listener’s body language and other non-verbal cues to delve deeper into or better explain a subject that has captured her/his interest or has perplexed her/him, or to move on from a subject that has not. So always pay attention to and respond to the non-verbal feedback signals too. And again if another person is shy, this should not be taken as an opportunity to speak non-stop – it should be taken as an opportunity to explicitly ask for their opinions and ideas in a collaborative manner.
People often think that just because they’re human then they’ll know how to best be one naturally. A similar scenario is when parents-to-be think they’ll know how to be the best parents they can be just ‘intuitively’, just by virtue of ‘having a baby’… and then they shout and smack and blame their children for their children’s undesirable behaviours because that’s the instinctive thing to do when one is tired, stressed and frustrated! Being born with two ears compared to one mouth evidently doesn’t automatically make us great listeners. One can indeed get somewhere with instincts alone, but learning about ‘active listening’ skills (which involve expressing to whoever’s speaking that we feel what they feel, and paraphrasing what they said to confirm that we’ve been carefully listening) and other interpersonal social skills will make one far better than a person who merely relies on her/his intuitions – after all, cognitive illusions and cognitive biases work mostly on the level of our intuitions.
However, further research does suggest that techniques like active listening may not be as effective as just saying something like, “Yes dear” in pure and simple agreement. Empathy and paraphrasing can be insufficient in some scenarios, such as when a female raises a difficult issue in the workplace, presents an analysis of the problem and suggests some solutions – if you can accept some of her views and ideas and therefore show a sense of power-sharing with her then you are both far more likely to maintain a successful partnership. Listening is still important but acceptance and positive action are more important. We’ve all heard politicians or businesspeople say they’ve listened and understood something but then ultimately did nothing about it.
So listen with all of your attention, but you don’t always need to summarise the speaker’s feelings or validate them for her/him – just accept her/his influence and views and make any changes that need changing. Acting on what you’ve heard is the best evidence to give to another person to show them that you’ve actually been listening.
Stonewalling, running away or showing contempt is not good in a romantic relationship. Be supportive and respond compassionately if your partner is in distress (compassion extends beyond empathy in that it compels us to want to act), make a strong effort to see from their perspective, care about enriching their life, and be willing to make some sacrifices or compromises for the sake of sharing the happiness. Meow.
Those who don’t listen tend to be arrogant and over-confident. Ignorance can make someone remain quite smug about something until the day they die. Not listening can lead to people jumping to conclusions and assuming that it’s other people who are being stupid (e.g. older people tend to automatically assume that younger people are the ones making the mistakes when something isn’t right during a team task). But one of the stupidest things to do is to assume that somebody is stupid just because you don’t really understand much about them or what they know or what they’re doing (e.g. narrow-mindedly thinking that certain foods or drinks can only be consumed during certain meals of the day because they were marketed that way; unless there’s a functional reason why not, such as alcohol just before or during work or caffeine too close to bedtime). Just because most people aren’t doing something, it doesn’t necessarily make that thing stupid – too many people blindly follow the herd (or marketing) and mock those who don’t. So if you don’t understand someone or something – try asking and listening some more rather than making assumptions or judgements.
We tend to assume that if other people hold different views to us, it’s because it’s them who know less than us rather than because it’s us who know less than them. We can also assume others want the same things in life as us because we fail to understand that other people can know different or more things about life than us (e.g. some people genuinely aren’t impressed by displays of wealth, just like some people genuinely aren’t bothered about football).
In a couple of poor places in the world, there seem to be many half-built homes, and if one was uninformed, one might judge the people in this country as lazy and don’t complete their jobs. But to the informed, the people who live in these homes can’t get bank accounts to store their money away safely yet they want to extend their small houses as they build up their capital, so they buy bricks as they go along instead. But these can still be stolen from their property if stored loosely hence they cement these bricks onto their property as soon as they gradually earn each brick they can afford so that they’ll eventually have a larger home one day i.e. it’s a very clever solution actually. You learn these things not by jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst but by querying and listening.
Another example is that humans may wonder why tigers are orange and therefore poor at camouflage against their predominantly green environments in the wild. But that’s from a narrow human perspective because it makes sense when we see things from the perspective of its prey – deer do not have red colour receptors in their eyes. Although humans cannot listen to fluffy tigers or deer, it’s still wise to attempt to take their perspectives. Overall, when we think that other people or creatures are stupid – that’s when we most risk exposing ourselves as being the stupid ones instead!
A comedian in the UK once told a joke about how do Chinese people eat soup when they only have chopsticks, and it got some laughs from the audience. He somehow wasn’t aware of Chinese spoons. Another comedian also assumed the only desserts on Chinese menus were lychees. Poking fun at others risks revealing our own stupidity. Everything either has a reason for being the way it is or we’re holding a mistaken belief about it. People can feel so self-congratulatory when they’re being the actual idiots – if only they were clever enough to notice that.
Listening is not just for the benefit of resolving conflicts or sharing views and ideas. Knowing a lot of seemingly trivial minutiae of your partner’s life is a good predictor of relationship longevity too (e.g. their favourite films and books, first job, birth place, clothes sizes, holiday preferences, best friends, persons they most admire, etc.). These pieces of information may be revealed indirectly through conversations on other subjects, but if you care to pay enough attention and remember these details then it will show that you care about the person they relate to.
We listen when we’re genuinely keen to learn more than assuming that we already know enough, and we listen when we love someone more than the sound of our own voice.
Meow. So please tell us what you think by replying to the tweet linked to the Twitter comment button below. Furrywisepuppy and I are always interested in your points of view.