Why is it so difficult to hear when it’s so easy to listen?

Yes, it seems like a very technical question mired in definitions and understanding, but I’m increasingly discovering that one of the hardest skill to develop in oneself is the ability to hear what others say. You see, we’ve become experts at listening to each other. If listening were an Olympic sport, then my 5-second response technique* would be gold medal worthy. But we don’t learn how to hear each other.

The distinction between the two is all about what one brings to the conversation. Everyone brings their opinion, their goals, their desired outcome. When we listen to each other, we put what we have brought to the conversation right in the thick of it all. With all of our own baggage in the conversation, there’s no way that the other person’s opinions, goals or outcomes has any chance of making an impression upon us. However, when we bring our own baggage, but leave it off to the side, then we start to hear each other. We can more clearly see the value that the opposite party brings to the conversation, and I’ve found that it makes conversations shorter, sweeter and much more productive.

So the solution is simple then, right? We just check our baggage at the door, and come into all conversations with an open mind. It turns, as is always the case, that it’s not that easy. There are folks who refuse to have a conversation without bringing to the front and center all of the baggage which they brought with them. I don’t think they consciously refuse to be open-minded, but they do consciously refuse to be swayed or to really hear what the other side has to say. I haven’t quite figured out where the line is between being open-minded and refusing to hear what the other side is saying, but I do think that both can co-exist. As an example, I don’t blame an Orthodox Jew for differing with me on topics like the Middle East Peace Process, but I do fundamentally believe that he can respect and listen to my opinion. That said, he won’t do me the courtesy of leaving his foundation and standing on mine.

All of this is coming from being a fly on the wall while a lot of different things happen around me. I constantly find the need from individuals to have others see things as they do, and be as they would be. I can now catch myself doing it as I do it, whereas before I was completely oblivious to it all. For me the advantage of having a baggage free conversation is that we get to learn and teach. We get to really make each better because we’re forced to really understand the opposite party’s perspective. I think when we stop to hear each other, we come out of the conversation as better people.

Too bad we spend so much time listening then…

* 5-second response technique is the practice of giving a neutral answer every 5 or so seconds to seem as if one is engaged in the conversation. I perfected it in high school while listening to girlfriends speak. These days, my good friend Saar Conradi is the one who constantly catches me doing it. It’s sadly become second nature