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Listening: The quiet revolution

By Laura Leggetter
08 December 2020

By Laura Leggetter

Kate Murphy’s book You’re Not Listening was a summer sensation. Well for me at least, but also by the looks of its reviews, it is transforming conversations everywhere.

Murphy states, ‘We are engaged in a dialogue of the deaf, often talking over one another at parties, work meetings, and even family dinners; groomed as we are to lead the conversation rather than follow it.’ 

From page one I was gripped, an epiphany that not only validated my own behaviour to hang back, but also thrilled me, knowing the gift of insight and knowledge we have access to as communicators only comes from the ability to observe.  

I was handed some advice early on in my career which was to speak up within five minutes of a meeting otherwise I would be largely overlooked.  I disregarded the advice, intuitively understanding that empathic listening, with the intent to really understand what the other person is trying to communicate was key.

At a time when we are urged to craft our own personal narrative, lead the conversation and speak up, have we lost our listening mojo and replaced it with airtime domination? Debate teams and qualifications in public speaking further authenticate success this way, with value placed on what is projected, not absorbed.  

My opportunity to listen comes in many forms – as a communicator of course but also as a mother – where parenting both a toddler and a teenager simultaneously means my Summer read has been put to the test. Listening to my toddler is crouching down, eye contact and a silent embrace, whereas to my teenage girl is best reflected on an evening walk, the dark nights providing a cover for my wincing expressions as I hear both her tales of teenage angst and excitement. I find it hard not to jump in and battle my ego to ensure I ask questions with an intention to understand, rather than solve.

I’m not alone in thinking true listening is hard. Gilda Carle, a New York City-based psychotherapist, says that we’re terrible listeners because we are distracted by 93% of nonverbal cues as opposed to the 7% of what we should be hearing. Short-attention spans and technology-promoted distractions don’t help us, coupled with the fact that our brains run faster than those around us can talk so we become preoccupied, formulating our response. 

I’ll never shout the loudest, nor tell my team or children to. Instead I’ll stick to the advice that Murphy offers in her final chapter, “Far from regarded as the talking’s meek counterpart, listening is the more powerful position in communication. You learn what you listen.”