Are We Really Listening?

Earlier this week I received, the advanced reader copy of Kate Murphy’s novel, You’re Not Listening, set to release January 7, 2020, and was immediately struck by the contents of the story. The Houston, Texas-based reporter who in the past has written for The New York Times and The Economist, shows within the first few pages just how convincing and exquisite her story-telling skills are.

What fascinates me about Murphy’s book is that even during the increasingly unavoidable loneliness of today’s digital age, she’s found a way to combat isolation. In this book, Murphy addresses the epidemic through a profoundly personal style of teaching us to be better listeners and connecting with everyone around us. In a way, she urges us to stop talking and start listening.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic, and I want to motivate my readers to get their hands on the book come the new year because I think many of us can use it as a tool for our upcoming New Year resolutions in 2020. Ever since reading the first few chapters, I have changed the way I listen to the people around me. I have become conscious of my subtle cues, and have noticed times where I really am just not listening.

I say that with sadness because no one should feel ignored, and I should know better as I have been in the situation being ignored. It’s disheartening to be on the phone with a friend and hear the radio silence behind every “mhmm” and “yeah” that they mutter out as they go through the motions and “pretend to listen.” Your confidence can be crushed when you are catching up with a friend for drinks, and they keep checking their phone in the middle of your story about what you’ve been up to since you last saw them.

As a psychology student, I have always realized how widely essential listening can be for yourself and the relationships you forge in the future, and I regret to say I’ve ever fallen short when it came to listening to everything someone said. One thing Murphy pointed out is if we are actually listening, there is no need for the subtle cues that show that we are listening. We don’t need to interject with mindless mumbles, but rather when they are done with their point, we should be able to briefly summarize what the person may have said and then add our thoughts and point of view to continue the conversation.

It could be jarring at first, but after reading that chapter of her book, you come to realize just how often you nod your head and interject in addition to how often you may lose your focus on just merely listening when you are going through the motions of proving you are “listening.”

Maybe teachers have always tried to make us good listeners. Perhaps they know what they are saying when they tell us to put our hands down until they are done speaking.

It was in middle school when I heard a teacher interject, “you aren’t listening when you have your hand up, and you’ll have more questions later because of it.” Which is wildly accurate, in school and in life outside of the classroom.

Someone may have said something, and then you replay their statement over and over in your head because you have a question about what they may have said, or you might be formulating a response and all the while you never hear the rest of their story.

There is so much we can learn from just listening, and being an active listener versus a passive listener. Although my friends had always deemed me as a great listener when it came to heading their insecurities and struggles because I would typically ask thought-provoking questions in response to their statements, I know there is more I can do to prove I am a good listener. I have Kate Murphy to thank since she was the one who reminded me just how important it is to really listen to your friends.

How many of my readers have felt ignored or lonely because they feel like there is no one out there to listen to them? Has there ever been a moment where you felt like you couldn’t be your complete, authentic self because you thought, “what’s the point in wasting my breath, they aren’t even listening?” I want you to know you aren’t alone, but that there is so much we can learn by being listeners, and the more that we can do to inspire others to listen, the more we can change the way our future develops.

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