Are you humble enough to hear?

Human ear icon

Human ear icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve come to the conclusion that people, in general, take much less care in listening than they do in talking – a big statement given so many barely stop to think before they speak.

I guess there are some obvious reasons for this. For a start listening is a passive experience. You receive rather than transmit, and thus have no control over the message sent. This means that the message between mouth and ear can become garbled and misundertood. The receiver can easily misinterpret the intent of the message, either because it’s not communicated terribly well, or because we tend to put our own subjective spin on things – not to mention our assumptions. We hear selectively too often, hearing what we want to hear, rather than what is being said. Occasionally we are lazy. We pick out the key words in the message and disregard the words joining them, much like we might skim through a paragraph of the written word. It’s no wonder that we so often get it wrong. Good listening is a much underrated skill, and is an act of precision when properly performed.

Of course I’m not writing this randomly. I’ve recent experience of the frustration of not being heard properly – in this case my sister, a classic in this regard.

In my sisters case I think much of the problem stems from an unwillingness to accept that someone might know better than her – even if she has gone to them for help. I’ve had many frustrating conversations with her recently about mum’s will, what’s happening, the conjectures surrounding that, and potential strategies. I’ll talk and she’ll get in a huff as if I’m questioning her intelligence. “I know,” she will say forcefully, and repeatedly, cutting across me – when in fact she doesn’t know, hasn’t listened, and only presumes to know what I’m saying. She’s in a huff and I get pissed off with her, to the point that I wonder why I should bother. Generally I’m trying to make a much more subtle point than she presumes, something she would easily understand if she shut up for a minute and actually listened to what I said.

She has a similar issue when taking instruction. She rang today, for example, to seek help with iTunes. I began to give her very precise instructions which she would interrupt as if I was being stupid, presuming once more to my meaning rather than listening to my words. She would become frustrated, angry, as things didn’t work out as I said they would – but because rather than doing what I told her to do she would skip ahead, hearing the keywords but not the words in between – and so rather than clicking the “music tab on top of the page”, she clicked on music library at the side of the page.

I’m not picking on my sister, she’s just an example. I think I’m a good listener, but I know I sometimes do it too, and for similar reasons – because I think I know better. To listen, and to actually hear what is being said, is an act of humility as much as anything else and, as we all know, an act beyond some people.