This text is taken from Efficient & Flexible Reading (3rd edition) by Kathleen T. McWhorter. Harper Collins Publishers. 1992.
It is not uncommon to hear people complaining that no one listens to them and no one understands them. Such complaints come not only from kids but also from adults. How often is this a vital cause in the failure of personal relationships? How often does it contribute to broken homes? How often do we hear of a married couple who fail to have communication, or of children who feel deserted? It seems something must have gone wrong.
Experts tend to resort to the term "generation gap" to explain the conflicts between parents and children. Can this term be applied to the cases mentioned above? Though there might be room for hesitation in the adoption of it when "generation" is taken into account, it is far from wrong to borrow the rest in making an analysis. There are bound to be differences, or gaps, in the opinions of two people that give rise to conflicts, and ways to reduce them are by no means easy to be sought, but it is equally true to say that there is bound to be a solution to every problem. Part of the solution to human conflicts is to avoid misunderstanding.
Misunderstanding often arises from a lack of communication. Curiously enough, in a modern society where not a few advanced technological means of communication such as the mobile phone and pager have been developed, people are still confronted with this problem. Investigations show that technological inventions do help facilitate human communication. They also show that while there are more opportunities for personal contact, especially through verbal communication, many people still find their listeners do not listen to them. Clearly, something is wrong with their listening ability.
People may wonder why their listening ability is undesirable when their hearing ability is physically sound. This is a basic mistake we often make. Very often hearing is confused with listening, as they are so closely related. Believing that hearing is a physiological function, which comes to us naturally, we take it for granted that listening does not require much effort. Experts in the field of communications are quick to attack this belief. In their view, listening requires hard work and energy. When people are listening, they have quicker heartbeats and faster blood circulation. Good listening, they think, is not as simple as it might seem.
To become a good listener begins with concentration. That looks easy on the surface. In too many cases, we have to listen to other people with physical and mental distractions around us. The ring of the telephone, the slam of a door or other human voices are some of the common physical distractions. The mental distractions in one's own mind, on the other hand, are much more difficult to overcome, for many reasons. A speaker may not be able to keep pace with the working of the listener's mind. The average person's rate of thinking is faster than the average rate of speech. With much free time left at their disposal, the listeners are likely to be carried away by their own thoughts and they soon lose their way. That is where the problem lies: listening too quickly.
Sometimes, the listener tends to skip part of what is being said unconsciously. Since each person has his own range of interests, when the speaker talks about something that is of no personal interest or concern to him, he would "switch off the talking." Though he might nod his head or respond with gestures, his mind is wandering. This automatic control exercises its influence especially when the topic is too boring.
Other psychological factors also come into play. A person's feeling towards the speaker can affect his listening ability. If he has a poor impression of the speaker, because of his appearance or whatever, it is quite natural that he would not tune in to the words of the speaker.
Verbal communication is a good means for people to understand each other. What has to be borne in mind is that, to ensure that good communication takes place, talking and hearing are just not enough. When we hear people complain that no one listens to them or no one understands them, we should be able to provide an acceptable explanation.