Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Can You Hear Me?

I was pretty young, about five or six, when I first recognized that people don't actually listen when you talk to them. With most people it was easy to tell; nothing in their actions acknowledged that you were speaking.

With some it would take time.  You talk. She sits quietly looking at you.  After a few moments, her eyes momentarily dart away from you as a distraction enters her field of vision. The frequency and duration of darting increases. Finally one of the distractions holds her attention and you disappear.

Some non-listeners are more difficult to spot. Their eyes don't dart. They say, "Uh, huh" at just the right time.  They may even ask questions in response to something that you said.  Then out of the corner of your eye, you catch a tapping foot or rolling fingers.  And then, of course, there are the responses that have absolutely nothing to do with what you said.

Nope, not many people listen when you talk.  I think it might have something to do with having been taught not to interrupt someone who's talking. They confuse not interrupting with listening.

Thing is, I prefer interruption to not listening. In my experience, it's the people who interrupt (on topic) that are often the most engaged in a conversation. They may not be listening well, but they're engaged and therefore have the potential to listen.

Anyway, all this occurred to me at a fairly young age and it kind of stuck with me. Nowadays, I just don't expect anyone to really listen to what I'm saying.  This basic expectation significantly has shaped my approach to people. Generally, I ask questions of people rather than telling them anything about myself.  If I do talk about myself, I avoid most things that I would find interesting and stick to topics that most people seem to find interesting. If I talk about things that do interest me, they're rarely current, but instead things I thought about or worked through years ago. Even then I limit my scope to topics that don't sound complex or esoteric.

Still, I often toss out keywords and codes to see if someone is listening or if they'd have any interest in things that interest me.

For example, in a conversation about music and sound, I'll mention the twelfth-root of two when discussing even-tempered versus enharmonic tuning.  (The twelfth-root of two is the ratio used to establish the frequency of adjacent notes in the even-tempered scale.) Most people just let it slide by without pausing or asking about it. Some stop and ask, "The twelfth-root of two?" However, their eyes quickly glaze over as start to explain. Every once in a while (like twice in my lifetime), someone will say, "Yeah, that's it! That's why you can never truly tune a guitar."

Iris and I often encounter people with expectations similar to mine. Many of them use codes too. I usually pick up on them and provide the appropriate counter-code. In a flash, their facial expressions melt. Their bodies relax. Observing the phenomenon, Iris will say something like, "Pretty cool when someone actually gets what you're talking about."

That comment usually helps complete the transition as the speaker recognizes that not only is someone listening, but they actually seem to understand she's experiencing.

Nope, there aren't too many people that listen, just enough to keep you looking.

Happy Wednesday,

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