Listen to me: attentively, please!

I've been thinking a lot recently about active versus passive listening. One of the main reasons couples end up in therapy, we're told, is to feel heard. My partner might be scheduling an appointment as I write this — last week, when he said something to me and I kept staring at my phone, he quipped: "you know, sometimes I feel like I'm speaking into a void."

For someone who shares my living space and overhears 90% of my work calls, it was a pointed reference! I put down the phone and laughed in recognition. He was totally right.

Of course, we can't be active listeners all the time. We're constantly dividing our attention and attempting to multitask and myriad things in modern life prevent us from listening effectively even if we want to. This blog post by Lumen Learning highlights a few: "information overload, personal concerns, outside distraction, prejudice, and rate of speech and thought."

Reflecting on my own podcast listening habits, I might feel most engaged when listening to a podcast over, say, the evening news or morning radio. If I've selected a show it's usually because I want to actually hear it and delve deeper into a specific topic, like Season 5 Episode 2 of A French Village. But like anyone, I can start thinking about what to pick up from the grocery store or wonder if I actually should go to therapy and what was that thing I was supposed to do for work again? And my mind is off to the races.

Add that to poor audio quality and you've lost me. And I think for an increasing number of Americans, prejudice (i.e. political division) does cause us to tune out. We'll hear one comment that we associate with either the super liberal or conservative spectrum and gloss over everything else someone has to say entirely. Information overload is a thing in the podcast world, too: give me one more conspiracy theory about Brian Laundrie's bones and I'll decide that’s enough internet for the day.

So how do we get back to the good stuff? The benefits of active listening are clear. It makes us smarter. It opens real dialogue. It helps the person in front of us — or even that person who exists somewhere between our Air Pods — feel validated and seen. Which in itself might be the solution to ending the political division and loneliness that defines our generation.

But I'm getting carried away.

Do you listen to respond, or do you listen to understand? And how can you practice the latter to better do the former?

Asking for a friend.