August is upon us, soon to be followed by “back to school” (I’ve talked to some who are already there!), then the whirlwind of the holiday season and a brand-new year already.
This month, I’d like to share a book title that is almost two decades old – and although there are many great books on communication, the topic of listening is more important now than ever before. The book, “Listen Up,” by Larry Barker and Kittie Watson was published in 2000, almost in the last century! And yet, when I think of that book, I realize the art of listening has never been so sorely missing in our society as it is today.
We know there are many distractions that keep us from listening: we aren’t really all that interested in what someone is saying (!); we’re bored; the speaker intimidates us, so we can’t stay focused; our email alert just went off drawing our attention away; we don’t like the person speaking; the speaker’s vocal tone; we’ve already heard this story; we have a headache; it’s too hot – or too cold – to pay attention; or maybe a butterfly just flew by the window and mesmerized us…you get the idea. It can be tough to pay attention and actually listen.
In years past, one of the biggest reasons researchers found for why we didn’t listen well was that we were thinking about what we wanted to say. Even if we were trying to think of something that would make the person speaking more comfortable or bring them comfort over a sad or difficult situation, if we were thinking about something else, we couldn’t have been listening well. It was that simple. And it still is.
Sadly, though, there is a “new,” ubiquitous item that seems to have taken over every ounce of our listening skills. Want to guess what that is? Yep, it’s the “smart” phone, which can sometimes make us look anything but smart.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not sure I could live without my phone, especially when I travel. And I don’t even want to try. But I have been reading more and more research that asserts that our phones are decreasing our communication skills, including how well we listen. For example, a recent study by Qualtrics and Accel found that Millennials check their phones as much as 150 times a day. Why wouldn’t they? They are the epitome of digital natives and that seems as natural to them as speaking to someone they meet for lunch. Just three years ago, studies showed that people in that group checked their phones “only” 74 times a day. But those of us who aren’t Millennials aren’t off the hook, either. Other studies are showing that people of all ages are beginning to show signs of addiction to their phones. It’s tough to be a good listener if we constantly have our ears tuned to the dinging of a text message.
So let me ask you a ridiculous question. What would happen if we became addicted to really listening to others? Hearing the emotions – or the unspoken words – rather than just the noise coming at us from the other person? Do you think that might impact our relationships? Our workplaces? Our own thought processes and perspectives on our world?
I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t create some element of change in how we interact with others and I believe that change would be positive.
Whether you read the book or not, please consider how becoming a better listener could positively affect your life – and the lives of those around you. Becoming a better listener isn’t about agreeing with everything others say. It’s simply about…you know – listening to them!
And don’t forget to check PLAN’s training calendar. We’ve got some great webinars coming up for you in August:
- August 14 – Cranky Coworkers and Other Difficult Behaviors
- August 17 – How to Handle That Dreaded Discipline Problem
- August 28 – Lessons for Lifelong Learning (part of the PLAN Library 101 Series)
And surprise! Becoming a better listener could help with every one of those topics.
Be sure to login and register for these August training sessions!
Hope to “see” you soon!