Listen To This (An Analysis of Poor Listening)

It's a classic staple of stand-up comedians and sitcoms alike, the husband not listening and getting into to hi-jinx and what not.  "I never heard you say to pick up the kids from school, derrrr". I don't think it's that funny either. The reason it's so pervasive is because it's true! I have suffered from this affliction for as long as I can remember, probably since birth. I sat down to think about this phenomenon and try to better understand the source of my inability to listen (or unwillingness).

Let's Break It Down!

Prior Mental Usage

Let's start with one that can easily be avoided, starting a conversation while I am concentrating. If I'm deep into a project or even deep into thought, I will say whatever it takes to keep people from interrupting.  I will carry out an entire conversation with one syllable words and promise I was listening without ever processing a single word. If you can help it, talk to me when I'm done or taking a break.  If you must interrupt me, force me into another room and make sure i'm not still thinking about said project, cookies help, then begin the conversation.

Visual Aids

For better or worse I was raised with TV, video games, and computers; their sole purpose in life was to keep me entertained.  They accomplished that goal by embracing the ADD tendencies that all children share.  As a consequence or possibly acquired naturally, I stop paying attention to what people are saying midway through a conversation if there are no visual aids. "Oh look, a pretty bird... What were you saying again? Oh, you’re trapped under a car". Wave your hands around, draw a diagram, or point at something relevant to the conversation; otherwise something else will catch my attention.

The Important Bits Are Hiding

A conversation shouldn't be like the plot of a Dan Brown novel, I don't want to go on a treasure hunt to figure out what the point is. If there is something I need to know or more importantly remember, give just that bit and then go on with the rest of whatever it is you were saying.  Better yet, take that bit of information you want me to remember and give me the audio version of Bold. Anyone that's ever had a significant other (that’s a woman) knows the experience I'm talking about. "Today I was with my friend and we went and did our hair...”, ten minutes later, "... and that's why we got a smoothie".  Then the next day when you forget to buy pickles she's complaining that she definitely told you to do it, right before that part about the smoothie and you just weren't listening.

Active Listening and Perceived Importance

Not every conversation has to be an earth shattering extravaganza of insight, but if I have no interest and can't find a way to relate to what people are saying, I give up on listening.  It's important to find a personally gratifying connection to the subject matter and make it something you find interesting and important. Most importantly if you are trying searching for a scrap of importance you will be forced to actively listen.

Active listening is easy to do but hard to remember to do. It essentially consists of actually paying attention and responding to others so that they know your listening. If you want to know more about it read it here
 If I am not concentrating on performing active listening activities, I trail off and end up thinking about how many goats it would take to kill an elephant or something.  In any case it turns out that if I'm not actively listening I’m not listening.

I am surely not a scholar on personal communication nor am I good at it, but sitting down and analyzing my listening issues has greatly helped me to understand the source of my problems and how to solve many of them. I learned that it takes two to have a successful conversation, if you want someone to remember something, make that clear, and when listening a little concentration goes a long way.

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