Why is it that two people can listen to the exact same thing and yet hear totally different things?
Don’t worry about answering, it’s a rhetorical question.
People tend to read into difficult words rather than merely taking them at face value. “That dress really looks nice on you. It’s got a very slimming effect.” — Oh no! Does that mean I look fat? — Instead of accepting what is probably a very genuine compliment, suddenly there are tears, hurt feelings and probably anger. And that is how arguments start.
Everybody hears what they are open to hearing based on their experiences and beliefs. Politicians get to say a lot of sometimes “nothing” and yet every speech will be met with cheers and jeers based on what the listeners WANT to believe. I WANT to believe that all my financial woes can be solved by a single act of a new shopping complex and the revenue it would bring to the area; I DON’T WANT to believe that giving up my brand new shiny car will help solve global warming. The politician says the new factory which will open up jobs will be the best thing and scrubbers will be installed in every smokestack — if I need a job, I’ll hear the opportunity of a new business; but if my child is an asthmatic the words that will be loudest to me will be “scrubbers in every smokestack” and depending on my level of trust…
We tend to listen selfishly with our own interests out front. We are afraid to accept, or hear, anything that might make us question the beliefs we’ve been loudly professing. We’ll attend a campaign speech to “listen” to the words of our favorite candidate and we are rarely disappointed. We focus on the things we want to hear and all the rest is just background noise. Almost everybody in the crowd does the same thing and it’s easy to get swept up with the emotional response, cheering and clapping. When the speech is over we turn and clap each other on the backs for a job-well-done as if we were the ones receiving all of the approving applause. Later when we are asked what was said, suddenly all we can remember are the good points that we agreed with, and we might not even remember the exact words, we just repeat the very things that drew us, right or wrong, to this candidate.
It’s frustrating when we are trying to get our message and meaning out there and someone is just not listening to the words. Chances are, though, we might be doing just the same thing. Selective hearing? Biased hearing? It’s a collective problem.
Psychologists tell us that we need to train ourselves to not only listen, but to listen from the other person’s point of view. If you can argue FOR an opposing view you wind up expanding your mind. And maybe it won’t make you change your mind but it will certainly allow you stronger belief in what YOU want to hear.