In Search of Lost Listening

What does listening imply?

The ability of virtually anyone to meet their needs by employing technology has raised the following issue. Everyone who wants to express themselves has to face increasing competition for an increasingly unavailable resource: the limited attention of the interlocutor.

One of the main functions of listening is validation. This issue is critical in organizational communication, but it has its roots in society, so I will treat it from this perspective with several examples.

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Validation means receiving an authentic confirmation from the interlocutor that the transmitted message has been received. Validation does not necessarily imply agreement with the interlocutor. An authentic agreement is a rare precious jewel.

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Goodwill in communication is too often taken as an implied good, which implies both the ability of the interlocutor to actively listen and validate the received messages as well as the fact that the interlocutor considers that the received message is worthy of their serious attention. The presumption that I include in this article may be a rather impolite one, apparently. Still, it looks pretty functional to me: goodwill in communication is worth being rewarded and earned, not considered to be implied.

First, I am focusing on the skill component, then on the will component.


Questions to be asked before WANTING to listen

The expectation of someone who issues a message is to be listened to, influenced, and eventually clarified. The mere fact of expression may be compelling, even though the interlocutor is inanimate. When validation is expected, desired, or preferred by the transmitter, the validation responsibility cannot only be placed in the listener’s hand. “You don’t listen to me” often reproach the listener’s will or skills. However, how often do we check, as transmitters, the following assumptions about a potential listener of our expression?

  • Does the listener have the required mood, availability, and patience to listen to the message in this context and form? Too many communications fail because the mere presence or interest in the presence of the interlocutor may be confused with their willingness to listen. Maybe the interlocutor has something else to do or wants to express himself. It must be checked, right?
  • Does the listener deserve to receive the emotion of our message? If it is a positive emotion, is he likely to respond positively? If it is a negative emotion, are we prepared for him to be replied to negatively?
  • Before sending the message, have we communicated to the interlocutor if the purpose for listening is a simple expression, obtaining the agreement, or obtaining a solution? These competing goals may often confuse the listener regarding what is expected of him.
  • Are we prepared to deal with the disagreement of the listener in any situation?
  • Can we observe the listener’s feedback?
  • Do we give the listener the time to answer?
  • Are we prepared to win and reward the goodwill of the listener?


How are we supposed to know how to listen to?

Children learn the Romanian language and literature in school, but until the end of high school, they don’t know interpersonal communication. For example, communication and public relations students learn how to send messages, but there is no subject matter called “how to receive/listen”. In fact, this is possibly an obscure subitem from commercial communication: monitoring the competition.

However, listening is a skill supposed by the majority. On what grounds? Where should listening be learned?

Listening could be learned in the family or Church if a strategic education was aimed at inspiring this virtue. However, when some priests and most parents are too hasty to listen, they give a bad example. The natural conclusion of too many children and future adults employed in organizations is this: “Expression is always something to be practiced in competition.” However, the hallucinatory and competing premise is that if an emitter opens their mouth and starts talking in the presence of another, they or will automatically be listened to and possibly confirmed as well. Why? Because otherwise, it is rude and they will be excluded from the circle of love and conditional acceptance, possibly condemned to sit on walnut shells in the corner of shame.

However, the term ascultare (listening) used in the meaning of “examination” has a negative connotation in Romanian society: students are “examined”, i.e., subject to pressure (without which no effort is worth being turned to account), the Communist Security used to tap (“listen to”) phones, neighbors eavesdrop on what we are talking beyond the walls, so we should, therefore, whisper, in order not to disturb an invisible presence. Unfortunately, however, there is not enough protest for our privacy rights.

As a result of absent listening, the transmitter feels the need to repeat the message (maybe it was not sufficiently understood). Even if the interlocutor seems to have received the message, if he does not verbally or non-verbally confirm its reception, the transmitter may continue to tell the same story repeatedly, which can lead to exasperation. The loop is repeated indefinitely. Why? Because there is no validation. The message sent using validation should sound approximately like this, not necessarily using words: “I have received your message. I understand that’s your concern. From your perspective, this is an idea whose existence I recognize. You can exist in my presence and express yourself; I recognize you.” This message is worth repeating if the transmitter is still looking for validation.

When we first contact an unknown person for the first time, we don’t necessarily expect to receive the goodwill of an answer on their part. Why would we expect that every time we contact someone familiar, that person should be available to listen to us? Authentic listening is a precious resource and an effort for which people deserve to be rewarded. Remember that the next time you hear the fee of a psychologist, psychotherapist, coach, doctor, or consultant. You pay someone to listen to you without you having much interest in their concerns. Maybe that’s why psychologists’ time is being abused outside of the private sessions: a professional invests years and tens of thousands of Euros in their training to offer them for free to anyone who thinks they are entitled? I beg your pardon?

So, the next time you leave work after a day of discussions in which you have the feeling that you have talked to the walls, or after a chat with your friends, you feel alone, it’s a good idea to ask yourself how much of the time competition in expression has been manifested and how much of the time has listening been truly displayed.


The implicit messages behind the desire to listen

Here are a few examples demonstrating a pathology of daily lack of listening. Of course, I don’t consider these examples representative of the respective roles. Still, I am, in my opinion, only an unwanted exception that can easily be corrected through awareness and alternative behaviors.

The parent calls the child from another room: “Can you hear me when I’m talking to you?” The parent indirectly sent the child the following message: “I don’t know what you are doing, and I’m not interested. Actually, I don’t even care. You’re at my command, so you have to be available anytime I want. Leave everything you are doing and stay still to hear my orders. Communication is a means of imposition, not dialogue. “

The priest who says: “Dear Christians, don’t come to the confession with lists because we don’t have time to listen to you; we have a Church to build” actually conveys the idea that “I am not at your disposal, but I am doing you a free limited service. My ears are not open with the patience of a confessor for what you have to say. I look at my watch and do other things while listening to you. PS: Give money for building the Church because I’m more of a real estate entrepreneur, not a confidant. “

The manager who knocks his assistant to her fits and all those with whom he is in the meeting by exchanging a lot of ideas proves to be indecisive and abuses the trust and attention of his subordinates who are remunerated financially and not rewarded psychologically, especially when they have to execute contradictory orders.

The guest on a TV show who is forced to interrupt the moderator with the question, “Forgive me, will you please allow me to answer the question you asked me?” actually conveys the following message: “I manifest understanding of your lack of communication skill, you redneck! In fact, you didn’t invite me to listen to me, but to express yourself. Hello, I am still here; if you invited me, would you let me talk, or did you forget about me, and would you prefer to speak all by yourself?”

Two people who talk about vacation:

A: “I liked it in Greece. It was so …”

B: “No, I liked it in the Netherlands.”

I beg your pardon? B conveys the following to A:” You are only allowed to express yourself if you express views I agree with, and you must know what I decide to or not before you or I open our mouths. If you express an idea with which I disagree, I feel I have to agree. Then I feel compelled to stop you before you hallucinate that I will continue to listen to the point of view so radically different from mine. So be like me if you want to talk to me, think like me, prefer like me because you are listened to conditionally to confirm ME. Otherwise, I won’t play anymore.”


So what if I CAN listen to you if I don’t WANT to?

Sometimes, the skill is not enough; motivation and will must also be. So, the agreement, even if manifested, is sometimes superficially displayed because the implicit assumption is that somebody will not hear out somebody they disagree with. Some people confuse validation with consent. In fact, what is it worth doing or saying to prove that you are right? Sometimes, it is not enough to be right; it also depends on how you prove it.

Finally, the listening skills are also checked by the strength of the changes in the state that they can cause in the person being listened to. For example, it’s easy to have a sense of humor with anyone when they are in a good mood and like to laugh, but try to make a depressed person laugh without listening to them!

On the other hand, those who have these listening skills and demonstrate them, but don’t want to use them with anyone, anywhere, anytime, are harshly judged as inflexible, rigid, rara avis” and they should give explanations on what they do when they are not available. Why? After all, this is a right everyone takes without permission, without apologies, and without explanations. The girl having dinner with her boyfriend while checking her Facebook account on her phone because she’s bored takes this right; the viewer that changes the channel, anybody receiving uninteresting mail, the politician who doesn’t answer questions, the child who listens to music in his earphones the morning to the detriment of his mother. We have so many ways to meet our own needs that we don’t consider it necessary to apologize for meeting them while being with others (who cares about privacy anymore when one can just stop listening?).

Are we prepared to face the listening competition? It looks pretty sharp for those who prick their ears!


Marcus Victor Grant

Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2017-present Translation by Cristiana Brezeanu of the article “În căutarea ascultării pierdute, “published initially by Marcus Victor Grant in Romanian on the 8th of July 2017 on Discerne. Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved. 

The materials on this blog are subject to this disclaimer.

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