Most of the time, in conflicts, we engage in listening to the other party long enough to create a counter-argument that supports the narrative we already have in our heads.
This is not active listening, it’s passive consumption of content while idly waiting for a turn to speak.
This passivity in listening is particularly acute when, in the middle of a statement (or idea) being expressed that we have already dismissed as irrelevant, uninteresting, or not fitting our narrative structure, we pull out the computer in our pockets and start surfing for distractions.
Or our eyes cease to focus on the person making the statement and we begin to look around the room.
Or we begin to fidget and move around, impatiently awaiting the end of whatever is being said.
Children tend to behave like this, and one of the functions of parenting is to curb such ADD-like behavior and channel the energy devoted to not listening to active listening.
And to hearing.
When adults behave like this (as increasingly we are seeing) it leads to the top three cause of conflict: miscommunication, poor communication, and fumbled communication.
There are some ways out of this, and the researcher in listening, Jim MacNamara, offers seven canons of listening (go and check out his talk with the London School of Economics and Political Science. It’s fascinating):
To get to appropriate responding in a way that acknowledges what was said by another party, listening (which is an active, and transactional act) must become part of the listeners’ conversational DNA.
And in a communication world that rewards impatience, inattention, passive (or little) recognition, endless noise, a lack of consideration, poor interpretation, and inattentive responding, what are we as individuals to do to increase our listening, and decrease our speaking?