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You're Not Listening: Book Review

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters (2019), Kate Murphy; listening is important. This book goes into more detail, has some interesting stories, and describes a limited amount of academic research. “Polling proved a poor substitute for listening to people in their communities and understanding the realities of their everyday lives and the values that drive their decisions. Had political forecasters listened more carefully, critically, and expansively, the election results would have come as little surprise” (p. 15).

2: That Syncing Feeling. Contrived (“show” of listening) versus actual listening. Bad listening behavior includes interrupting, responding vaguely, looking at phone, fidgeting. Hearing is passive, listening is active; understanding is the goal of listening.

3. Listening to Your Curiosity. Everyone is interesting if you ask the right questions. Leave the exchange learning something. CIA agents who are good listeners become interrogators. Communications research: elocution, rhetoric, argumentation, persuasion, propaganda. Definition of listening: understanding what someone is telling you. “Expert listening”: in a prescribed way. Studs Turkel emphasized curiosity. Listening for things you have in common.

4. I Know What You’re Going to Say. Closeness-communication bias, making faulty assumptions. “A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short” (p. 50). Dunbar number: maximum number of people manageable in a social network, perhaps 150. “Mansplainer”: lecture and correct, therefore not close to anyone. Confirmation bias and expectancy bias, craving order and consistency.

5. The Tone-Deaf Response. Mass shooters depressed and lonely, not psychotic; Alienated from society and looking for revenge.

6. Talking Like a Tortoise, Thinking Like a Hare. Speech-thought differential: we think faster than someone can talk. Listening is like meditation, return to focus on the speaker.

7. Listening to Opposing Views: like being chased by a bear, feeling unsafe, hard to listen to. Cognitive complexity: self-compassion, negatively related to dogmatism (negative capability); listen without anxiety, ability to listen to all sides.

8. Focusing on What’s Important. Robert Merton, US Office of War Information to research propaganda: what would be effective as anti-Nazi messaging using focused interviews; better than general questions. Similar techniques used by corporate America. Focus groups became extremely important.

9. Improvisational Listening. Google: what makes a great team? No predictive patterns except listening: “equality in distribution of conversational activity.” Improv requires active listening and good training for listening.

10. Conversational Sensitivity, precursor to empathy: “What Terry Gross, LBJ, and con men have in common.” People are generally self-aware; self-monitoring (and paying attention to emotions) make them better listeners (what are the things that lead them to jump to wrong conclusions). Scammers are good listeners, important to manipulate and play you: the liar [love, make you rich, or cure you] and the person who hears what he/she wants to hear.

11. Listening to Yourself: the voluble inner voice; inner dialogue supports cognitive complexity; people are often hard on themselves or believe in their own greatness.

12. Supporting, Not Shifting the Conversation. Jenny Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill) talking to archrival British politicians Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone: “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman” (p. 136). Support response (Disraeli): all about listening and supporting the speaker. Shift response Gladstone): conversational narcissism, self-referential. Women are more empathetic, favoring personal over fact-based information. Autism as a severe form of “male brain.”

Don’ts when life is unfair (according to Crowe and McDonald: suggest you know how it feels (you are a sounding board); identify the cause of the problem; tell someone what to do; minimize their concerns; include forced positivity and platitudes; admire the person’s strengths.

Quaker “clearness committees” (used to determine compatibility for marriage): listening as an approach to problem solving.

13. Hammers, Anvils, and Stirrups (turning sound waves into brain waves). Sonic variations and neurons detecting emotional content, e.g., museums as more sensitive. Mind-altering effects of prejudicial information (e.g., Fox News).

14. Addicted to Distraction, like why cigarettes? Social media as distraction.

15. What Words Conceal and Silences Reveal. Sometimes silence works, e.g., for decision making. Japanese businesspeople tolerate silences: “The silent man is the best to listen to” (p.186). [George Washington as a great leader and listener: listen as Hamilton and Jefferson hash it out, then make the decision.]

16. The Morality of Listening: whys gossip is good for you. Social exchange theory on social interactions (Peter Blanu, 1960s); supply and demand perspective with the value of information the inverse of availability and triviality. Robert Merton as the “father of focus groups.”

17. When to Stop Listening. Conversational expectation according to philosopher Paul Grice: we expect the truth (quality); get information we don’t already know (quantity); relevant and logical flow (relation); and speaker should be brief, orderly, and unambiguous (manner) (p. 204). Perhaps politeness and fairness.

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