Active Listening

I was going to say It’s funny how … but it’s really not funny how time effects our ability to really listen and understand what people are saying.

When we listen to poetry or music, we can spend days or weeks trying to get the real meaning behind a lyric. In some cases writers have been know to stump listeners for years by creating lyrics that rhyme, but have no real meaning. Nik Kershaw wrote a song called “The Riddle” with beautiful lyrics that seemed like a real puzzle. He let people ponder over it for years before he admitted that there was no riddle, just words that rhyme.

If we can spend so much time trying to understand a lyric, why do we not spend as much time trying to understand what people are saying to us? I am as guilty as anyone else when it comes to this. I hear a person say something and my brain automatically picks what it thinks the meaning should be and I run with that. With some people it seems to work, but I have discovered that sometimes those people are just being polite and I have totally missed the point.

I was speaking to a phycologist friend recently who told me that the longer you know someone, the more likely you are to misinterpret what they say. We as humans tend to pigeon hole people and associate meaning with what we expect a person to say. As people evolve, our perception of the people does not always track, so we stop being able to effectively communicate.

This is not what I would have expected. With some work colleagues that speak publicly, I can usually tell you what they are going to say before they say it and I am right 90% of the time. I would have thought that the longer you know someone, the better you would be at predicting their behaviour. Turns out, this is not the case.

I suspect that there is some happy medium where we can improve our listening and analysis skills without taking hours to complete a conversation. That said, it wouldn’t hurt to stop every now and then to ask for clarification.

You may find you don’t really know who you are talking to.

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One Response to Active Listening

  1. David Brown says:

    Nice blog Fred! Active listening is an important life-lesson. Because we build mental-models of how we’ve learned the world works, including the people in it, it’s pretty easy to overlook changes in the people close to us.

    I am as guilty as anyone else in presuming to know what I am being told.

    I had an excellent teacher in college who swore by the two-by-four method of communicating. The two-by-four to your head was to get your attention! 🙂

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