Listening isn’t optional


Should I really need to ask?

So I find myself in conversation with a friend who I’ve not seen in a while. It’s kind of awkward, but it’s too late to pretend I never saw her. We’ll carry on. As I’m asking her about her life, and she’s obligingly repaying the kind gesture, something curious happens. I’ve listened to her about her life which, coincidentally, is pretty boring, and I’ve even asked questions about what she’s just said, which surely shows my interest (albeit mildly feigned)…

But then as she’s responded with the same generic questions about my life, she suddenly stops listening. She’s still facing me, and obviously still in the conversation, but she’s no longer making eye contact. And she’s not asking me further questions as I divulge her with my somewhat more interesting life. I can see she’s listening, but she’s not really listening. 

She nods and ‘hmmms’ in the right places, and adds the occassional ‘Ah, that’s good’ in for thorough measure, attempting to disguise the fact she couldn’t give a damn. But I know, love. I can see that you’re not really listening. Not paying attention, because you’re not interested.

Now, I’m sorry to be blunt, but if she didn’t care, why acknowledge I was there. I don’t mean to be rude, but I save myself from these awkward situations by avoiding people I have nothing to say to/don’t care what they have to say. (Don’t act like you think I’m rude, we all do it!)

In this instance, I used my last sociable ounce of energy after a long hard day at work to indulge her in conversation, questioning her life like I actually wanted to know. But the decency to at least echo this token was clearly missing.

People seem to forget that a conversation requires speaking and listening. The ability to take into account what the person is saying and reply accordingly is called ‘active listening’ (I learnt that in AS level Health and Social Care- go me!) If this skill is somewhat lacking, conversing with someone gets pretty one-sided, not to mention boring and tedious.

So I implore you, as you read this, to engage in conversation today with somebody, whether you wish to know about what they’re saying or not, and motivate your active listening dexterity. Concentrate on listening to what they’re saying, and respond depending on it. No more generic answers, because nobody feels listened to that way. And that’s not nice.

Don’t be the person that gets avoided by old friends because your crap to talk to. If you’re interested, you’re automatically more interesting. End of.


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