Friday, May 10, 2013

People Talking Without Listening

I was 13 years old  in 1970, the year Simon and Garfunkel released the song Sounds of Silence. I remember sitting down with my friends in our church youth group and having heavy duty "rap" sessions about the symbolism found in the song, dissecting the lyrics line by line in a way that would've made even Paul Simon puke!

It was one of those songs I worked hard to learn so I could play it on the guitar and impress my friends (translation: girls) -- repeatedly practicing the finger-picked minor chord introduction until I had it down just right. (A side note: My mother actually encouraged me to take piano lessons as a boy so, she told me, I would "be popular at parties." Her words, not mine! Of course, she also had me suffer through four years of ballroom dance lessons -- no doubt with a similar goal in mind.)

Anyway, of all the lyrics in the song, the line that particularly stood out to me was "People talking without listening." Even back then as an awkward teenager -- not that all teenagers are awkward, or that I am no longer so! -- I understood that statement to be true. People don't listen well. They didn't back in the 70s, and they still don't now, some 40 years later. We talk a lot, but we don't really listen well at all! Most of the time, while others are talking, we're really just waiting for them to take a break so we can put in our own two cents! Take note of a conversation or two and I think you'll find this to be true.

I've written before about how important listening is to the communication process, and how it's the one component that, unfortunately, gets the least amount of our attention. The bottom line is: we don't listen well. Period. And while that's all well and good if we're just having a casual conversation with friends over dinner, it often spells disaster when we're wanting to have a significant conversation with our partners. Many of the couples I work with cite communication as a "growth area" for their relationship, and I spend a fair amount of time working with couples hoping to improve their communication skills. Suffice it to say, it often takes a significant amount of time and effort.

Why is it that we can hardly wait until the other person stops talking so we can jump in with our own thoughts?  Is it human nature? Self-centeredness? Arrogance? All of the above? Say more about that...

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