(Mis·) Communication, or Distracted Listening?
When we engage in “selective listening”, we miss most of what is being shared.
To listen, or not to listen is a choice that we make.
We make a choice to direct our attention, or change the direction of our attention.
Listening is another form of paying attention. Listening requires sensory input that our brain processes and translates into a meaningful for us concept.
In other words, we hear with our ears, but listen with our brain.
We live in a world of “information-overload”, so our ability to listen well is even more at risk.
Today more than ever.
In my view and observation, our ability to focus has dramatically reduced with the increased amount of information around us.
Just to give you a sense of the seismic shift and the amount of information that was being delivered to us between 1986 and 2010.
According to Martin Hilbert, in his paper on How Much Information is There in the “Information Society”?, he describes this shift.
“In 1986, the amount of telecommunication was the informational equivalent to 2 newspaper pages per person per day. Notwithstanding this low starting level, since then our telecommunications capacity has grown four times faster than our broadcast
capacity, reaching the informational equivalent of some 20 entire newspapers per person per day by 2010.”
While Daniel Levitin, in his book The Organized Mind, describes the following.
“Information scientists have quantified all this: In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986—the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of 5 hours of television each day, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media put together, including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet.”
Our brain is comprised of neurons, which are living cells that require energy (oxygen and glucose). When our neurons work, they use energy and when they work hard, they too experience fatigue. Pushing and stimulating the brain to working hard is beneficial, because it contributes to improved brain function. However, when we overwhelm the brain with excess information, particularly with excess technology (email, text messages, social media, and so on), we drain the brain faster. This ultimately leads to a reduced ability to focus, process and retain information, and of course, our ability to listen.
Once again, our ears hear, while our brains listen.
Being alert and attuned to our environment is vital to our survival.
Attention is the most important mental resource that is generally on in the background. Similar to what a computer or a device may be doing at any given moment, which is constantly using up resources of the CPU (the computer-brain) to keep everyone on and running. It is also important to note that our brains do have the ability to filter “stuff” out, and focus on the task at-hand. In other words, we have the capability, although more often than ever, to tune out our environment to maintain a greater focus on what is important.
Our brain performs different functions and does the translation in different ways.
For example, if you hear an electric toothbrush, your brain has to process the sound and then translate it into an idea that is familiar to you, to let you know that it is an “electric toothbrush”.
What happens if you are listening to another person?
Even if you are not looking at the person, your brain already recognizes the fact that the sound is another person’s speech. In this instance, the vast amount of processing is about the content of what you are hearing. Your brain has to do a lot more processing. The translation requires you to interpret of what is being said and then the brain creates meaning out of that content. The issue is that our brain is only capable to paying attention to and processing a portion of the information we receive. Yes, we fill in the blanks a lot. Now, imagine how many more blanks you have with additional filters and distractions.
Your daily practice to train yourself to listen (better).
- Practice 5 minutes of intentional listening every day – use music
- Dinner table listening – practice daily, or when you are with friends and family