written September 27, 2008
When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. - Fight Club
Think about that. Do you really listen to people, or do you just wait for your turn to speak?
This is a sweeping problem in society today. Everybody is so eager to spout off what they think they know and what they think is important, they never actually take the effort to listen—to actually digest the other person's main point, to read between the lines, to sniff out the implications, to appreciate their purpose for speaking. Not even close. Instead, we hear words, dismiss them, and proceed to unleash the fury of our ignorance. And then we wonder why so many people are out of touch with us. Because everybody does the same exact thing: they don't listen, they just wait for their turn to speak.
I readily admit that I'm guilty of this on a daily basis, and I am not criticizing anybody, but instead what I'm trying to address is a problem in all relationships, be they business, social, or romantic. It's a fundamental problem that is very subtle but extremely detrimental. Subtle because you've probably always considered yourself a good listener even though you're not. Detrimental because, well, here's an example:
I never really appreciated the pervasiveness of this problem until law school. Again, I'm not criticizing, but I cannot count on ten hands the number of times a teacher has asked a very specific question, and 20 hands shot up without a remotely related answer. For example, today the teacher asked, "Why are we studying this case?" Somebody, with benevolent, knowledge-thirsty gusto I'm sure, chimed in with his all-knowing, incorruptible opinion on how he thinks the law should be. But the teacher didn't ask our opinion on what the law should be. He asked why we were studying the case—why the issue, rule of law, and holding were pertinent to our broader study of property law. If the jack-ass who raised his hand took a second to understand the question, he wouldn't have wasted another five minutes of our limited class time.
In another class, the teacher spent the first 20 minutes explaining an organizational concept in drafting. She basically said, "In order to convey A, you need to do B, C, and D." Then, despite just spoon feeding us the answer, she asked how we should go about conveying A. Did anybody reiterate her explanation of doing B, C, and D? Nope. Instead, some girl went off on an explanation of the specifics of X, and how the rule worked in one case but didn't apply in another case while poorly explaining the judges' reasoning for each case while trying to quote her casebook the whole time. Not only were her assertions incomprehensible, but they were completely irrelevant to the teacher's question.
Think about it: why do so many relationships crumble? Are you really trying to understand and appreciate the thoughts of your significant other, or are you just looking for somebody to project your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions on?
Why are managers so disconnected from their employees, and for that matter their customers? Do the higher-ups listen to what their people have to say, or do they just go through the motions of listening and then do whatever they want?
Why do the ignorant remain ignorant? Because when you debate somebody, you don't bother giving their opinions any weight. You're already convinced that you're right. I've argued with countless people about countless topics, and the same thing always happens: when I make a completely valid, irrefutable point that rips the foundation out from under their argument, they dismiss it out of hand. They say something like, "That's true, but I still think I'm right." No more arguing, just denial that they were wrong. Fucking incredible.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
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- What Direction is Your Life Headed?
- How Not to Argue
- Boiling Frog Syndrome
- Deaf Frog Syndrome
- Redundancy and Unnecessary Repetition
- Define Love