I graduated with a degree in Strategic Communications in University.
It always amazes me how often we fail to listen to others, myself especially. It’s unfortunate that I don’t notice until after the fact, as it usually leads to miscommunication, shortly followed by misunderstandings and conflict both big and small.
I’ve often heard the phrase: “Many people hear, but rarely listen.” – or something like it.
“Hearing” is something you can do passively. Your ears are open, and sounds go in. That doesn’t mean that your brain is tuned in to register what is coming in.
Listening is an active exercise.
To listen you need to be receptive to incoming information. When you hear what is said, you can then take the time to process and understand it. You may even repeat what you believe you’ve heard, to ensure that you accurately understand what was said. The game of telephone* might be far less intriguing if each person did this.
To take it a step further you might even try to understand where the other person is coming from. Why would someone say what they said? Too often we project and assume. We formulate responses based on what we believe was said, often before the other person has even finished speaking. We might be talking, physically making words. But conversing in this way is, in fact, nothing of the sort.
I’d recently begun noticing more and more where I behave this way. Say a person whom I don’t particularly want to be near starts talking. I know that I may want them to go, so all of my responses are tailored so as to subtly (or not so subtly) encourage them to go. Unfortunately, that behavior often carries into conversations with those close to us, with relationship-straining effects.
What I got out of this realization is this: Get out of our your head. Be present with those around you. Be present with yourself. Get out of your own way so you can truly be with those around you. Otherwise even if loved ones surround you, you may still feel alone.
tl:dr: Repeat what others say to ensure understanding rather than assuming. Get out of your head and be present with others.
*Telephone is a game where participants stand side by side. Someone on one of the ends says a phrase, and each person following repeats that phrase. In the end, the person at the end says what he heard, and compares it to the actual phrase spoken by the first person. Very often the phrases are quite different.