You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy
People in long-term relationships tend to lose their curiosity for each other. Not necessarily in an unkind way, they just become convinced they know each other better than they do. They don’t listen because they think they already know what the other person will say.
Listening is how we stay connected to one another as the pages turn in our lives.
What you tell, and how much you tell, depends on how you perceive the listener at that moment.
His conversational style was to lecture and correct, and as a result, he didn’t know how to be close to anyone.
In notes from underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But finally, there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away.”
It’s a reflexive mental tendency that gives you the illusion of understanding and, hence, lessens your curiosity and motivation to listen. Without realizing it, you start listening selectively, hearing only what fits your preconceived notions.
But it’s important to remember that what you know is a persona and not a person, and there’s a big difference.
Moreover, when people feel insecure or isolated, they tend to overdramatize and espouse more extreme views to get attention.
People are more likely to feel understood if a listener responds not by nodding, parroting, or paraphrasing but by giving descriptive and evaluative information. Contrary to the idea that effective listening is some sort of passive exercise, it requires interpretation and interplay.
“people want the sense you get why they are telling you the story, what it means to them, not so much that you know the details of the story,”
You know you’ve succeeded as a listener when, after you respond, the other person says something like “yes, exactly!” Or “you totally get it!”
In conversation, people rarely tell you something unless it means something to them. It comes to mind and out of their mouths because it has valence, begging for a reaction. And it’s in understanding the intent and meaning beneath the words that you relate to that person.
J. Pierpont Morgan said, “a man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.”
You miss out on opportunities (and can look like an idiot) when you don’t take a breath and listen.
When someone else talks, we take mental side trips. We check out momentarily to wonder if we have spinach in our teeth.
Ralph Nichols, a professor of rhetoric at the university of Minnesota, who is regarded by many as the father of listening research.
To beat those averages, it’s helpful to think of listening as similar to meditation. You make yourself aware of and acknowledge distractions, then return to focus. But instead of focusing on your breathing or an image, you return your attention to the speaker.
While we fear silences almost as much as saying the wrong thing, a pause following someone’s comments can actually work to your advantage, as it’s a sign of attentiveness.
It’s also worth pointing out that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say,” when you don’t. You can also say, “I’d like to think about that,” which conveys that you honour what the other person said by taking time to think about it, while, at the same time, honouring that part of you that is uncertain and needs time to process. Always having a ready bon mot may not be the best way to connect with people anyway. In fact, according to the tenets of self-psychology, committing a faux pas creates an opportunity to fix it, which strengthens your tie to the other person. First advanced by Austrian psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut in the 1960s but more widely embraced in the past ten years, self-psychology holds that repaired rifts are the fabric of relationships rather than patches on them. Indeed, if you think about the people whom you trust and feel closest to in your life, they are undoubtedly the ones who have come back after a flub and made it right. The upshot is that worrying about what to say next works against you. Your responses will be better, your connections will be stronger,
“your internal stance should be one of curiosity,”
They must ask questions out of curiosity as opposed to questioning to prove a point, set a trap, change someone’s mind, or to make the other person look foolish.
“they worry that if they really pay attention or really understand the other side’s point of view, they will lose sight of what matters to them.”
Talking sticks are an indigenous tribal tradition in north America and Africa. Only the holder of the stick can speak while everyone else listens.
The truth is, we only become secure in our convictions by allowing them to be challenged.
And effective opposition only comes from having a complete understanding of another person’s point of view and how they came to develop it.
In the moment, the primitive brain interprets a difference of opinion as being abandoned by the tribe, alone and unprotected, so outrage and fear take over.
“negative capability,” which he described as “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
To listen does not mean, or even imply, that you agree with someone. It simply means you accept the legitimacy of the other person’s point of view and that you might have something to learn from it. It also means that you embrace the possibility that there might be multiple truths and understanding them all might lead to a larger truth. Good listeners know understanding is not binary. It’s not that you have it or you don’t. Your understanding can always be improved.
One of her greatest talents is asking questions that don’t rob people of their stories.
“why?” Tends to make people defensive—like they have to justify themselves.
The power of qualitative research—the power of listening—is that it explains the numbers and possibly reveals how the numbers come up short.
Using social media data to learn about human behaviour is like learning about human behaviour by watching people in a casino.
In other words, even in the era of abundant data, we need to listen to get to understanding.
Naomi has what I have come to recognize as the listener’s demeanour. By that, I mean she’s exceptionally calm and has an expression that transmits interest and acceptance. Her eyes don’t dart, her fingers don’t fidget, and her body seems always relaxed and open. I spent several hours interviewing her and observing her interactions with others, and not once did I see her cross her legs or arms. When she was with someone, she never gave the slightest indication she was on a schedule or there was somewhere else she’d rather be. My most vivid image of Naomi is her sitting with her elbows bent in front of her on the table, cheeks resting in her hands, eyes wide, listening like a rapt teenager. “the real secret to listening I’ve learned is that it’s not about me,” Naomi said at one point. “I’m holding my cup out in front of me. I want them to fill my cup and not pour anything in their cup.”
Information is only as useful as how it’s collected and interpreted.
The most productive teams were the ones where members spoke in roughly the same proportion, known as “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.” The best teams also had higher “average social sensitivity,” which means they were good at intuiting one another’s feelings based on things like tone of voice, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues.
“I’m beginning to think my need to show what I can do is keeping me from finding out what other people can do and what we can do together.”
Bob Minkoff, told me, “dating is a ritual of getting to know another person well enough to laugh.”
It is said that intuition, often called the sixth sense, is nothing more than recognition.
When people feel known and appreciated, they are more willing to share.
Knowing yourself and your vulnerabilities is an important aspect of being a good listener.
You can only be as intimate with another person as you are with yourself.
Spanky is code for her mean inner voice—the one that pipes up during times of stress, mercilessly chastising her and making her feel small.
Trying to suppress your inner voice only gives it more power. It gets louder and more insistent, which makes some people get even busier and overscheduled to drown it out.
John: my dog got out last week, and it took three days to find him. Mary: our dog is always digging under the fence, so we can’t let him out unless he’s on a leash. (shift response) john: my dog got out last week, and it took three days to find him. Mary: oh no. Where did you finally find him? (support response) sue: I watched this really good documentary about turtles last night. Bob: I’m not big on documentaries. I’m more of an action-film kind of guy. (shift response) sue: I watched this really good documentary about turtles last night. Bob: turtles? How did you happen to see that? Are you into turtles? (support response)
Good listeners are all about the support response, which is critical to providing the kind of acknowledgment and evaluative feedback.
Because people like to appear knowledgeable, they like to ask questions that suggest they already know the answer.
Asking open-ended questions means the conversation can go anywhere, particularly into emotional territory.
Your answer to someone else’s deepest difficulties merely reflects what you would do if you were that person, which you are not.
Open and honest questions don’t have a hidden agenda of fixing, saving, advising, or correcting.
Grilling them about what happened is interrogating. Telling them they shouldn’t feel how they feel is minimizing. And changing the subject is just maddening. Kids, like all of us, just want to be heard. Try instead, “have you always felt this way?” Or “what would quitting mean?”
The solutions to problems are often already within people, and just by listening, you help them access how best to handle things, now and also in the future.
What is love but listening to and wanting to be a part of another person’s evolving story?
While our smartphones may not allow us to have a decent conversation (“can you hear me now? How about now?”), they seem to offer us just about everything else—social media, games, news, maps, recipes, videos, music, movies, podcasts, shopping, and pornography, if you’re so inclined. In the end, none of it is as emotionally satisfying or as essential to our well-being as connecting with a live human being. And yet, like any addict, we keep tapping, scrolling, and swiping as if pulling a lever on a slot machine, hoping to eventually hit the jackpot.
His willingness to hear customers’ stories made them less guarded and more trusting toward him.
Where people get extremely uncomfortable when there are gaps in conversation. We call it dead air.
Research shows that being able to comfortably sit in silence is actually a sign of a secure relationship.
To be a good listener is to accept pauses and silences because filling them too soon, much less pre-emptively, prevents the speaker from communicating what they are perhaps struggling to say.
There is a teaching in the Talmud that says, “a word is worth one coin, silence is worth two.”
“it’s the people who are comfortable in their own skins that are okay with quiet.”
People who are comfortable with silence elicit more information and don’t say too much out of discomfort.
There’s also the thought that listening to how people talk about others, true or untrue, may say as much, or more, about them than the people they are talking about.
The contemporary French intellectual Pascal Bruckner argues in the temptation of innocence that modern individualism may be taking us backward.
Those who bragged the most were usually the least accomplished.
Grice summarized our conversational expectations in four maxims: maxim of quality—we expect the truth. Maxim of quantity—we expect to get information we don’t already know and not so much that we feel overwhelmed. Maxim of relation—we expect relevance and logical flow. Maxim of manner—we expect the speaker to be reasonably brief, orderly, and unambiguous.
And also know that people change, and your view of them changes, when you truly listen.