Why can't we just listen?

Listening: have you ever really, consciously thought about how good you are at it? It has recently been brought to my attention (not mentioning anyone in particular, so I apologise if you start to feel paranoid) that listening isn't something everyone seems to possess as a learned behaviour. Is it a skill that you have to be consciously aware of to be good at, rather than an innate ability?

From my own experience, listening is a skill that is lacking. I can recognise these people immediately, either from the glazing over of their eyes as soon as someone starts to talk to them, or by the way everything they say reverts back to them. I should probably clarify that this isn't a passive-aggressive attack on anyone I know - it's something that I've just been aware of recently - and although very few people that I know lack this social skill - it continues to confuse me, as it's such a vital thing to be able to do. A good example of this is the House of Commons - if you ever watch Prime Minister's Questions you'll see that MPs just don't listen, instead opting to shout and force themselves to laugh.

Many people hold the belief that they come first - but this doesn't mean they should only be interested in talking about themselves. One of the best things you can do is listen to others, how else do you gain a sense of perspective, the ability to empathise or to learn anything?

I've just read a book that gives a lot of insight into the mind of those who don't listen. The book, Carry me Down, is written through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. The book details the life of him and his parents, through a tumultuous period of their lives. However, as a young boy, the narrative is subjective to the point of claustrophobic. Reading it gave me a sense of what it must be like not to be open to other people's points of view. In other words, a child of 12 is comparable, in terms of insight and perspective, to that of an adult who doesn't hold the ability to truly listen.

I don't need to write about the decline of value placed on conversation, as this is heavily written and talked about. However, as we continually choose to converse via technology rather than face-to-face, is this partly responsible for the widespread in-one-ear-out-the other pandemic? As we increasingly opt for talking to someone in the next room over instant messenger, or choose an email over a phone-call, will we have to remind ourselves of how to converse? I often witness people having a conversation whilst simultaneously texting on their phones. How is it that we've gotten to the point where a text conversation and a real one are given equal importance?

The most baffling thing is - being a good listener is always top of the list in those oh-so-romantic checklists of qualities wanted in a significant other. The best thing about living in this world is that, thanks to globalisation and technological advances, we have great levels of public discourse and an abundance of information and viewpoints swarming around us every day. Choosing to turn inward and only really listen to our own narrative is severely limiting. 

Googling how to be a good listener comes up with 43,500,000 results. But why is it something we feel we need to be told how to do? Up until writing this, I had assumed it was a basic instinct -  you don't get many articles on how to be good at breathing. 

A good conversation, as sad as it sounds, is one of my favourite things. It's more satisfying than finding a typo whilst eating chocolate. Sadly, I do find them getting rarer. Rant over. I just hope somebody listened...


  1. Excellent article, but can I suggest that you grab a bar of chocolate and go back and check the spelling......
    Irony aside, I wholeheartedly agree with the tone and sentiment of the article. Listening is an underused skill, but all too often you find that people are just waiting for their chance to speak and not taking on board the other point of view. Fortunately this isn't a new phenomenon, but in this day of communication overload it is becoming more and more obvious.

  2. Thanks, Nik. Yeah, it is becoming an old argument unfortunately. Where do I need to check my spelling!?