“Still a man hears what he wants to hear. And disregards the rest.”
– Paul Simon, The Boxer.
Like it or not, we all probably fall into this listening strategy from time to time. We turn off our critical thinking skills and listen, intently, only for those things that reinforce positions we already hold. We filter out the opinions that run counter to our thinking and hear only what we want to hear.
The major problem with this listening strategy is that when we fail to question the information we’re receiving, we loose the ability to interpret it’s truth. Consciously or unconsciously, we give up the right to get deeper. We give up the right to clarify and solidify our own thinking. And in this age of soundbite media and quick sharing, the danger of falling too deeply and too often into this listening pattern is that we miss real opportunities to learn and grow. We become habitual followers.
The Lazy Retweet.
How often are articles retweeted on Twitter (or liked on Facebook) without actually being read? How often does a headline that aligns with an already held belief simply get shared without any critical analysis of what is actually being said in the article? Or without adding any added value to the conversation? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I have a strong hunch it’s more often than we’d care to admit. Personally, I’ve written posts that I know take longer than a minute to read, only to have them retweeted within seconds of sharing on Twitter.
And, yes, I’ve made this mistake myself. I’ve done it when I trust the writer, or have a prior understanding of what their opinion is on a topic, or to show support. And in those circumstances were trust rules, perhaps it’s fine. At a minimum though, it feels lazy. Regardless, it is still a dangerous move. It’s dangerous because it has the potential to create a habit of “lazy thinking” and lazy listening. That’s the last thing we need more of.
This is also fast becoming the listening strategy of new media conference goers. Attendees dutifully share the catchy speaker soundbites as fast as their fingers can type. These are released with almost no context and those listening to the Twitter stream retweet without ever having a full understanding of what was actually said.
There is no app for that.
There are no tools that will help us with this. There’s no Firefox plugin that I know of to force us to apply critical thinking. Reducing the number of times we employ the “listening for reinforcement” strategy will only come from awareness and discipline. It’s a process.
How often are you listening for reinforcement without critically analyzing the information being presented?
This is the second in a five part series of posts on Listening As Strategy.