“You’re Not Listening”: Why and How You Should

In essence, that’s what this book says, and what listening to someone says: you matter to me. Katie Weed, Shelf Awareness, regarding You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

No one is a good listener all the time, let’s face it. But some people don’t even try. They and their counterparts, the ones trying to be heard, suffer for it.

Journalist Kate Murphy takes up this topic in her new book, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters. In the following book excerpt (lithub.com) Murphy relates disheartening research results: “It was extraordinary how many people told me they considered it burdensome to ask family or friends to listen to them—not just about their problems but about anything more meaningful than the usual social niceties or jokey banter.”

What her publisher says Murphy accomplishes in her book:

She makes accessible the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening while also introducing us to some of the best listeners out there (including a CIA agent, focus group moderator, bartender, radio producer, and top furniture salesman). Equal parts cultural observation, scientific exploration, and rousing call to action that’s full of practical advice, You’re Not Listening is to listening what Susan Cain’s Quiet was to introversion.

Why should we listen to each other? As Katie Weed, Shelf Awareness, reports in her review, reasons abound.

Perhaps most significant is intimacy and the relationship it invites: listening connects us to one another. Being better listeners, Murphy argues, can help us in myriad facets of our lives–lives that feel increasingly isolated. Ironically, this isolation is happening in the midst of unprecedented connection by way of social media. Murphy notes: ‘[Teenagers] are spending more time alone; blue in affect, as well as in appearance, thanks to the reflected glow of their devices. Studies indicate the greater the screen time, the greater the unhappiness.’

So, then, how do we learn to listen better? It is, after all, an acquired skill. Kirkus Reviews:

At the basis of listening, Murphy maintains, is a sharp curiosity and the kind of openness that indicates the hearer has something to learn from the speaker. The author recommends thinking of active listening as a form of meditation. During a conversation, ‘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.’ She points out that one of the primary obstacles to listening is the assumption that we know what someone is going to say, which means, unfortunately, that we’re least likely to pay attention to the people closest to us, including spouses, children, and friends.

From an interview with the author on her Amazon page, here’s some helpful advice about curbing this tendency toward half-hearted listening:

A better response will come to you when you have taken in all that the other person has to say. Then, pause if you need to after the other person concludes to think about what you want to say. And if you’re still at a loss, it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ You can also say, ‘I’d like to think about that,’ which conveys that you’re honoring what the other person said by taking time to think about it, while, at the same time, honoring that part of you that is uncertain or anxious and needs time to process. Better that, than responding in a way that is insensitive or misses the point.

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