When somebody tells me that women are better at multitasking then men I regularly answer, that yes indeed I can talk and speak on the phone at the same time. Which is another way to say, that I don’t believe in multitasking and even less so when it comes to conversations.
Listening to what is being said requires much more presence than we sometimes are aware of. The amount of things we do automatically during conversations is incredible: we notice how the other person talks, the way they react to what is happening around them, their gestures, changes in facial expression and much more. This element of the non-verbal part of a conversation takes more of our attention than we are usually aware of. As Albert Mehrabian found out, we use the non-verbal to verify if it is coherent with what has been said.
Beyond paying attention to the other person in a conversation we are also paying attention to what is happening around us, we are “disturbed” by our own reactions to what is being said and sometimes we already start thinking about our reactions to what has been said.
It’s a process we are observing while we also have to go beyond simply listening to the words being said, we have to understand them. We can integrate them into the way we see the world but to really understand what the conversation is about, we have to understand how the other person means what he is explaining.
Getting to the meaning of what is being said is hard work for our senses and our brain.
It’s challenging as we always see a context when we share information, but as it is known to us we sometimes miss to name all the details which would help the other person see what we see.
Taking an extreme example: If we are in the middle of the ocean we trust that there is land somewhere, but we can’t see it, whereas someone who is in the ISS will see the ocean we are in, the land we are sailing towards but miss to see our boat. Having different “points of view” imply that the information which seems relevant to share will differ for both.
Independently from the point of view, we might have, our aim is also influencing our conversation. Interestingly, just as with our point of view, we often assume that the reason why we are sharing the information we are sharing is understood by both and don’t synchronize our respective aims making a mutual understanding more difficult to achieve.
Hearing means to know that words have been said and which ones. Understanding means to ask all the necessary questions and share all the relevant information to allow both partners in the conversation to “stand in each other’s shoes”. It’s not about agreeing, it is about seeing each other and be able to see what both see.