Why Listening is Difficult

It’s often been said that humans have two ears and one mouth in order to listen twice as much as we speak.  Interestingly, almost all research points to the veracity of this statement.   

Related: Listening: Our Most Used Communications Skill | MU Extension 

We do listen much more than we speak. Yet, it is rare to find an institution of learning from  K – 12 and beyond that provides any programs or even classes in listening.  This truism is a national shame for those who design curriculum. 

To help strengthen the listening skills of anyone who reads these words, I suggest that the greatest obstacle to effective listening is “unconscious bias.”  That is the bias that we all harbor and express without even thinking of it.

Having biases is not a bad thing.  The inability to recognize or control them is a bad thing.  The keyword here is “unconscious.”  Those are the biases that we all have so deeply secured in our minds that we are not consciously aware of them and how they impede our ability to listen.  These biases will differ for each person, but we all have them.  They may be as subtle as the bias toward a flavor of ice cream, the color of a car, the type of shoes you wear.  They may be as critical as biases around gender, race, religion, nationality, and many more. 

I’m not suggesting that a bias of any kind is good or bad. I am suggesting that if you are not aware of and in control of your biases, they will interfere with your ability to listen effectively.  A worthy skill to pursue is to move your “unconscious biases”  into a position of “conscious bias” to prevent them from obstructing your ability to understand and participate in communication with others. How you move from “unconscious” to “conscious” is fodder for another conversation. 

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