Are we better listeners now?

by Jane Douglas – May 26, 2021

We all know that person who doesn’t listen. They talk over you, finish your sentences, take the conversation off in whatever direction suits them. You struggle to get a word in edgeways. We’re all guilty of it too – so busy thinking about the next point we want to make that we don’t hear what the other person is saying. Or too concerned with filling silences and offering solutions to let them talk through the problem. Sometimes conversations can feel more like a performance than a meaningful exchange.

But that was before the pandemic. For the best part of a year, many of our relationships have been mediated by technology. Loved ones were reduced to little oblongs on a screen, the awkwardness of video calls eventually sapping the depth from conversations.

Now that we can actually be near our nearest and dearest again I find myself quietly basking in the warmth of company. Having been so isolated from real conversation – the kind that lasts all afternoon – I’m fully absorbed in other people’s stories. I’m hungry for all the little incidental details and reflections that were lost from the scheduled formality of video calls. The reason I’m listening more is partly selfish – it’s an all-inclusive holiday from my own thoughts.

But as we amble through topics big and small, I’ve noticed something else. A new instinct has developed – we seem to be letting the other person finish talking before speaking ourselves. We’ve had to learn that skill as we work and live on Zoom: it’s just about impossible to have a conversation otherwise. Perhaps something good can come from an eternity of video calls after all.

I hope that lockdown will leave another positive legacy for our communication skills. Having spent so long in our own little worlds, with nowhere to hide from our emotions and asking ourselves some fundamental questions, maybe we will hear each other more deeply now. Seeing past the surface chat to the real meaning of what people are saying.

I certainly like to think so, because to process what just happened, we all need to talk and be heard.

Published May 26, 2021

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