communication, politics, psychology

We should all listen to each other more…

This morning, I read a headline in the Daily Press, the newspaper that serves the Tidewater area of Virginia, the place where I was born and raised. The headline was about Virginia’s gubernatorial race. This year, Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, will step down as governor, and someone else will take his place. The newspaper was reporting on how the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, “dodged” a question about vaccination, which drew criticism from Democrats.

I know a lot of people hope to see Glenn Youngkin beat the Democrat candidate, former Governor Terry McAuliffe. This is because a lot of people from Virginia don’t like Ralph Northam, or Democrats in general. A lot of people don’t like Mr. McAuliffe, either. I come to this conclusion based on comments I’ve read online, but also because I am from Virginia and I still know a lot of people there. Plenty of folks think Democrats are just plain evil. On the flip side, plenty of people also think Republicans are evil.

Even though Virginia’s political leanings have recently shifted from red to blue, there are still many Republicans in Virginia, particularly in the area where I grew up. And, just as they might choose a favorite sports team, people in Virginia have a tendency to choose sides in politics. I suppose it makes things simpler for them. On the other hand, it also makes our society more divided. I’ve noticed that people will often write off people solely based on their political preferences. There’s little thinking or discussion involved.

I didn’t read the article in the Daily Press about the governor’s race. Doing so would have required turning on my VPN, since the Daily Press, like so many other U.S. based newspapers, has made itself unavailable to readers based in Europe. We have a pesky data privacy law over here with which a lot of American papers can’t be bothered to comply.

I did, however, read some of the comments on the Daily Press article. Someone lamented about how anti-vaxxers were selfish and rebellious. Below is a screenshot.

Good lord! The comment about banning vaccines and masks comes from someone who lives in Tennessee, for Christ’s sakes!

I had to laugh at the guy who called Biden’s administration a “pos” (piece of shit), and wanted to know if the commenter he was responding to would jump off a bridge if Biden asked him to. Did this guy have the same mindset in January 2021, when Trump called on citizens to storm the Capitol? Are most people really like this? Do they really have no ability to think for themselves? I mean, there are some conservative ideas that I can get behind. And there are some liberal ideas that I like. Why does it have to be “either/or”? Why can’t we work together to make policies that suit the majority of people? Are there any moderates left in the world? Or are they all just keeping quiet?

Lots of people are in legal trouble right now because they listened to Donald Trump and “jumped off his bridge”.

I attempted to tell Bill about the comments I was reading, but he suddenly interrupted me with thoughts of his own. Granted, they were thoughts that were on topic, which was a plus. However, it was pretty clear that he hadn’t really been listening to me. A few seconds after I started speaking, he began formulating a response. In doing so, he missed part of my message.

I was immediately annoyed by the interruption and said so. I love Bill very much, but he has a terrible habit of interrupting me when I’m mid sentence. He also has a tendency of speaking to me when I’m engaged in something else, like reading, watching a video, or playing a game. Consequently, I often have to ask him to repeat himself or “hold that thought” until I’m ready to actively listen to him.

I often feel frustrated, because I can’t finish a thought or I get distracted from something on which I’d been concentrating. I have kind of a short attention span, so when people interrupt me, I tend to forget what I was saying. I also grew up in an environment where people didn’t really care what I thought and happily told me so… and in fact, I was labeled “arrogant” when I did express opinions. So, I’m probably even more sensitive to being interrupted than I might otherwise be.

Bill immediately apologized. He knows he has a tendency to interrupt. It’s a habit that gets reinforced in his job, where people are action oriented. He works with a lot of military folks, and they aren’t big on introspection or “soft skills” like listening instead of speaking. There’s a lot of testosterone and posturing that goes on– guys jockeying for leadership. Bill is probably one of the less alpha guys in his office, but he still has this habit of cutting me off when I speak. He doesn’t mean to be rude when he does it. It’s just something he’s learned to do.

It occurred to me that a lot of information and insight gets lost because people are so busy talking over each other. Successful communication depends as much on receiving messages as sending them. If you’re speaking or formulating a response when someone else is speaking, you’re going to miss some of what they say. And whatever you say in response will probably be poorer for it.

After Bill apologized for interrupting me, I said, “What do you think would happen if you consciously made an effort to listen more?”

Bill thought about it for a moment and said, “I’d probably learn more.” Then he told me that listening more carefully was a concept he’d actually talked about with his Jungian therapist.

Then I said, “I challenge you to make an effort to speak less and listen more today. When you’re at work and someone speaks to you, try to make yourself listen carefully to what they say. Do you think you can do that?”

Bill smiled enthusiastically and said, “I can try.”

That’s one thing I like about Bill. He has a really good attitude about most things. He’s slow to take offense and quick to take correction.

I truly am curious about what would happen if people listened more and spoke less. This is a habit so many of us have– myself included. We’re so busy wanting to be heard ourselves that we don’t let others have their say. And then we get offended when they don’t want to listen to us when we want to speak.

It’s not just a problem in conversations, either. It also happens when we read. Here’s an example.

A few days ago, someone in our local pet group posted a comment about heartworm preventative in Germany and asked a question about where to find heartworm treatment for her new dog, who had recently come to Germany from Romania. German vet clinics aren’t like U.S. vets. A lot of the clinics in Germany are just offices, rather than hospitals, where veterinarians can board sick animals. Heartworm treatment generally requires hospitalization. The vet where she took her dog could only test for the infestation; they could not offer treatment, because they don’t have hospital facilities.

I was the first person to respond to the poster. In my first comment to her, I explained that heartworm preventative isn’t widely prescribed in Germany because heartworms aren’t that prevalent here. I wrote that German vets usually only give prescriptions to people if they’re taking their dog to a warmer country. Vets here don’t prescribe heartworm preventative as a matter of course, the way American vets do. More discussion ensued, and we established that she’d need to find a vet with a hospital.

Another commenter came along and tagged me in a comment, “correcting” me for what I’d written about heartworm preventative medication. She wrote that German vets will prescribe preventative if someone is going to a warmer country.

My response was, “Right. I mentioned that.”

I’m sure my response came off as a bit “curt” and “bitchy”, but it always annoys me when someone doesn’t read carefully and then tries to correct another person. If she’d spent more than a few seconds reading more carefully what I’d actually written, she wouldn’t have felt the need to make the point about warmer countries that she’d mistakenly thought I’d missed. Those few seconds spent more attentively reading/listening, could have spared her the few seconds she’d spent “correcting” me, and the few seconds I spent letting her know that the correction wasn’t necessary. It also would have spared us both some irritation.

Why do people do this? I think it’s mainly because of egotism. We want to look smart, accomplished, and helpful. People want to be heard– but they don’t always want to listen. I think Americans, in particular, don’t want to take the time to listen before they respond. They’re always rushing to prepare for things, even though a minute spent listening could spare them five or ten minutes down the road. Time is money, we’re told, so we rush to say something, do something, take action– but so often, if we’d just cooled our jets and shut our mouths, we could have spared ourselves needless grief, time, and money.

Plenty of other commenters came along after I commented on that thread about heartworm treatment in Germany. Many of the people who commented never bothered to read what had already been written. It seems they all assumed they knew better than everyone else who had responded. I ended up turning off notifications for that post. Hopefully, the lady found a vet to help her dog.

This issue of how we don’t listen well came into my head a couple of days ago, when I stumbled across a televised interview of one of the women who wrote Not Without My Sister. The show was aired in Ireland, and proved that some interviewers are terrible listeners.

I found this interview very frustrating to watch.

Notice how the interviewer often doesn’t really let her guest finish her sentences. Part of this may be because of time constraints. Part of it may be because the interviewer is trained to ask questions. But I wonder how much she can be hearing if she’s so busy forming responses and new questions as her guest is trying to answer. As a viewer, it was annoying to watch this interview, because I couldn’t hear all of what the guest was saying.

The above interview isn’t as bad as some, though. I can’t stand watching shows like The View, because there’s a whole group of women talking over each other. It’s hard to get a clear message rather than just noise. I wonder what the point of the show is, if no one can get a word in edgewise, and no one is actually listening to the person who speaks.

Anyway… I hope Bill will remember what we talked about this morning and give my proposal to talk less and listen more a try. I wonder how much more efficient and productive people could be if they’d just stop and listen for a moment. How much information will they get that is not distorted? How much time will be saved because someone didn’t have to repeat themselves? The possibilities are endless.

We really should all listen to each other more. I include myself in that suggestion. I’m going to give it a try. I hope some of you will be inspired to try it, too.

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