Our Struggle with Listening

While we welcomed with open arms, eyes, and ears this newfound age of technology, the challenge that it brings can prove difficult. By spending everyday with a portable computer in our pockets, we open ourselves up to more and more interruptions and take part in the myth of “multitasking.”

Research proves, many times over, that we simply cannot focus on two separate things at the same time at a high level. According to one study done at the University of Utah, just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively.

Think about your own experiences with multitasking: have you ever tried listening to an audio recording and typing an email on a different subject at the same time? Only to reread your email and find two completely different tracks of thought going on?

This struggle to multitask bleeds over into our interactions with people, and it makes an impact on how present you are in that conversation. When it comes to listening, we are more often than not having internal conversations with ourselves while the other person speaks, and as a result, we are only really hearing parts of what is being shared with us.

When we speak with others, we think to ourselves about what we will say next and we wait for the pause in their speech. Then we jump in to speak — in an attempt to be efficient — when in fact we have not really heard what was said. 

So, what do we do? How can we fix this habit of multitasking distract? Saying this is easy, doing it is harder, but we have to slow our minds to be present in the conversation. 

  • Step one, listen intently, and stop for a second to think through what was said.
  • Step two, ask follow-up questions before you respond. 

As defined in the book The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols, sometimes slowing down enough to really listen to someone can feel like a burden, but it doesn’t have to be.

Our best advice: slow. down.

The fact that we have two ears and one mouth is something we constantly have to remind ourselves of, but practice makes perfect. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you stop wanting to be heard and instead listen with the intent to understand.


Read more about the University of Utah study on multitasking here:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/PBR.17.4.479

To find The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols, go here:

https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Art-Listening-Second-Relationships/dp/1593859864 

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