Human communication is a funny thing, isn’t it? Spoken language is supposed to be one of the things that distinguishes ‘us’ (people) from ‘them’ (animals) : but then you see a graph like this :
and you wonder why anybody bothers saying anything, ever. Because the chances are, No-one Is Listening.
Now obviously, the human condition is such that we pass our lives locked in the inner turmoil of our own consciousness, and will therefore never know what anyone else is really thinking, even if they tell us. But I would still like to know what is actually going on for the 93% of the time when people are basically ‘not listening’. Here are some of my observations :
1. Thinking of what they are going to say next. It’s a sad fact of life that no-one is ever as interesting as you, and yet they seem to expect you to give them at least half of the available conversation time. This is why you should interrupt them as many times as you can : they will eventually realise how fascinating you are, and stop talking.
2. Trying to guess the end of your sentence. People do this to me a lot : maybe I speak too slowly / get distracted / bore people / repeat myself? Thing is, they never get it right, though : they don’t know the end of the sentence, even though they must be listening to the beginning. Sometimes I ask them to stop, and sometimes I let them talk while I plan what to say next.
3. Thinking about having sex with you. This maybe sounds better than it is. For example : I used to work with road engineers, and we had a lot of meetings, talking about their projects. The first 20 minutes could be occupied with choosing which biscuit to have next out of the Peek Frean Family Assortment they favoured (public money, plenty more where that came from!). But after that I used to amuse myself by putting them in reverse order of who I would have sex with, if I really really had to.(shudders involuntarily)
4. Staring at the telly. If you have one or more children, you will know that they never listen to the first word of any sentence, which is why warnings like ‘Don’t scooter down that hill at top speed’, ‘Don’t eat all those sweets, its nearly dinner time’ and ‘Don’t hit your brother, he’s smaller than you’ are all wasted breath. If they are watching the telly, though, this increases to the first three times you say any sentence. This is why they are indignant when you come into the room, shouting ‘I SAID, WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR BREAKFAST!’, because they missedthe first four times when you asked them nicely. In some cases this is understandable : Almost Naked Animals, a cartoon about animals in underwear running a hotel, is manifestly more involving than anything you have to say, ever.
The terrible fact is, though, that if you have ever met anyone that really truly listened to you with their soul, giving you their full attention, even for a minute, you can understand why we can never get enough of this wonderful feeling. All of us operate with a huge ‘listening deficit’, which is why, I think, we are constantly trying to get ourselves heard with the talking talking talking.
I did think I might end this piece with a sincere plea, much in the manner of Rabbi Julia Neuberger on Thought for the Day, to anyone reading this (why, given the topic, am I imagining anyone but myself…) to give someone today the wonderful gift of truly listening, without claiming back from them your right to be heard. Don’t, though, because if you do, they will so love the feeling of being totally interesting and valued, that they will constantly seek you out for longer and more frequent dollops of the boring crap inside their head, and probably never even think to ask how you are.