The Lost Art of Listening

By Erin Sofianek
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a restaurant with my family, when I glanced at a table across the room. A family was sitting there, looking quite normal, but something was wrong. Every single person was sitting in silence staring at their phone, save one young child who was yabbering away while the mother absentmindedly nods at his words.
I probably watched them for much longer than was acceptable without seeming like a crazy stalker, but as I was watching it made me sad how how disconnected they were. And it was disturbing how little anyone was paying attention or listening to the child.
Sure, they might have heard the words he was saying, by there was no connection. Sound familiar? It should. This is a reality that many of us exist in without even noticing it.
Every day, everywhere we go, there is a constant buzz of noise, people talking, phones buzzing, music playing, rain plopping, feet stepping. We hear the noise in every moment of our day, in between running errands, doing homework, working, and filling the days with business.
Yet, how often do we really stop and listen? Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens.
Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. And most importantly, listening requires active engagement.
In this society where it seems as though the world revolves around us, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about the ‘me,’ and forget to notice the people around us and give credit to the things they say.
When I asked students what it meant to really listen, responses varied from, from “making eye contact’ to “engaging by asking questions.”
Allison Reinhardt, a sophomore at Bozeman High School, says to “definitely put away your cellphone and take out your earbuds when having a conversation with someone.”
We are plugged in all the time, checking instagram, browsing the internet, texting friends, doing homework and countless other things that require electronics. While this is often a good thing, trying to hold a conversation while simultaneously being distracted simply doesn’t work.
According to a 2008 NPR article, the brain is physically not capable of comprehending multiple ideas accurately at the same time. If a person attempts to focus on two or more activities at once, both activities will suffer for it. This also applies to communicating. So unplug while talking to people.
No matter how much you’d like to think you can multi-task like a pro, you probably aren’t as good at is as you believe.
Personally, I’d love to think that I’m capable of doing homework and listening to music, and talking to my mom about my day all at the same, but let’s face it: while attempting to do that many things at once, the quality of all of them will suffer.
Human connection is the sort of thing that most people crave. Human connection is what leads to friendships and all relationships. It’s necessary to some extent in almost every line of work.
Think back to when you met your best friend, significant other, or any other person that is important in your life. Did you half ignore them because you were listening to music as you talked? I doubt it.
When you developed a relationship with this person you were probably actively listening, asking questions, making eye contact and comprehending the words that came out of their mouth, reading body language, and genuinely being interested in the other’s opinions. This is what relationships are built off of.
Yeah, it’s easier to give only half of your precious attention to someone for about four seconds before getting distracted, but this is how we lose friends and this is how we miss out on new, potentially fantastic, relationships.
So let’s try to make an effort to think about our own little worlds a little less and actually engage in meaningful conversation with someone, new or old.
Honestly, I kinda think this world would be a little better for it.

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