We’ve all been on the receiving end of someone listening to reply.
Unless, of course, you’ve never listened to a politician answer questions. Our esteemed leaders are expert at listening to reply. Only they don’t call it “listening to reply.” They call it “sticking to their talking points.” A question asked to a politician is fed through a series of carefully crafted internal filters that often results in an answer to a question that wasn’t even asked. But that’s not what’s important. What they have to say is more important to them than actually answering your question.
And this is the basis of the “listening to reply” strategy – subordinating the words of the people speaking to the words that you’re formulating in your own mind. Those of us who are non-politicians fall into this strategy unconsciously. We are passionate about a topic, or are in a heated discussion, and suddenly, what we have to say is more important than what anyone around us is saying. It’s a natural reaction.
But unlike listening for reinforcement, which eschews critical thinking, listening to reply requires quite a bit of critical thinking. The critical analysis, however, is not applied to what we’re hearing, it’s applied to what we want to say. We analyze the words we hear, not to understand the person speaking, but to better craft our response. And it makes it almost impossible to come away with an accurate understanding of what the speaker is saying. We miss the real meaning of their words.
There is danger in listening to reply. Especially on the internet.
The soundbites roll past quickly. Often, only the headlines get read. But when this is combined with a strategy of listening to reply, the consequences can be high. Nir Rosen learned this lesson the hard way. Rosen, a former NYU professor and journalist, tweeted out the following message after reading a headline about the attack of CBS reporter Lara Logan in Egypt in February: “Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson. Where was her buddy McCrystal.”
The headline of the article Rosen was responding to did not do justice to the savagery of her beating and rape. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Rosen claimed “that he did not know Logan’s assault had been of a sexual nature when he published the offending Tweets.” This seems in direct contradiction to the fact that he linked his tweet to the article that clearly stated she was. It just wasn’t in the headline, which read, ““CBS News’ Lara Logan Assaulted During Egypt Protests”. He didn’t actually read the story. If he had been in the less dangerous “listening for reinforcement” mode, he might have simply retweeted and moved on. No harm. No foul.
But he, in my opinion, was clearly listening to reply. His subsequent tweets ask how many other women were raped that night who were not getting news coverage. If I give him the benefit of doubt as a long-time advocate for women’s rights in the Middle East, it appears his internal agenda was to move the attention away from a Western reporter he thought was merely “assaulted” to the plight of Egyptian women who endure more severe trials without fanfare. Rightly motivated or not, he had an agenda and he had his own internal talking points. Listening to reply probably cost him his career. And it definitely cost him his journalistic reputation.
“To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well.” – Chinese Proverb
“If we changed our way of listening, could we have a bigger influence on people because they feel that we are listening? Could we make someone feel better because we took the time to hear what he or she had to say?” – Musings by Annelie Näs
Annelie is asking the right questions. We can do better. What kind of an impact could we have if we stopped listening to reply and began listening to learn?
This is the third in a five part series of posts on Listening As Strategy.