With cellphones everywhere, we have all heard our share of one-sided conversations. Most of us automatically tune out these days, since we don’t really need to know the dinner plans of the person sitting next to us on the bus. We bring down our personal Cone of Silence to protect ourselves from involuntary eavesdropping.
Unfortunately, we can also carry this defensive inattention with us into the rest of our day. In situations where people are wearing headsets or Bluetooth devices, it might even be difficult to know whether we are supposed to be part of a face-to-face conversation, so we start listening only for clues about when we are expected to answer. We stop trying to hear what might not be important to us, ignoring that being heard might be extremely important to the person speaking.
Remember the old Far Side cartoon where the man was trying to teach his dog a trick, but all the dog heard was her name: “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah”? Staying on the surface of conversations creates a similar attitude, which makes it difficult to recognize when someone is trying to bring up an important subject, let alone respond appropriately.
We should all check in with ourselves throughout the day to be sure that we are really listening not just to the words other people are saying but to the meaning they are trying to communicate. Especially if they are actually talking to us.