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You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy (Celadon)

February 18, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Earlier this month, I led a discussion group on Instagram with my friend Sue on Kate Murphy’s new book, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters. As promised, I am sharing some of the conversations we had on this extremely relevant book and URGING you to read it. Our discussion covered some of the highlights in the book but certainly did not cover everything. Let’s jump right in!

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel here, I am going to share with you the publisher’s synopsis.

“Despite living in a world where technology allows constant digital communication and opportunities to connect, it seems no one is really listening or even knows how. And it’s making us lonelier, more isolated, and less tolerant than ever before. A listener by trade, New York Times contributor Kate Murphy wanted to know how we got here.

In this always illuminating and often humorous deep dive, Murphy explains why we’re not listening, what it’s doing to us, and how we can reverse the trend. She makes accessible the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening while also introducing us to some of the best listeners out there (including a CIA agent, focus group moderator, bartender, radio producer, and top furniture salesman). Equal parts cultural observation, scientific exploration, and rousing call to action that’s full of practical advice, You’re Not Listening is to listening what Susan Cain’s Quiet was to introversion. It’s time to stop talking and start listening.”

I can’t reiterate enough the importance of this book. Murphy says, “You learn when you listen.” Yes, this is true in class or with an audio book, but are we really learning about one another in our conversations? How much can we learn from a text, email or social media account? True listening occurs, face to face…..the old fashioned way. Back in the day (not that long ago), we hung out with our friends/family on the front porch, over long Sunday dinners and even at more frequent social gatherings. We talked, we connected, we actually listened to one another and knew one another. I am old enough to remember those days. Long phone calls from my land line (I still do that….EVERYONE KNOWS THAT I LOVE LONG PHONE CALLS), car rides that included conversations (is that possible?), and lastly… LESS DISTRACTIONS. There is no doubt that technology plays a huge role in this drama. But is it all technology’s fault???

First of all, technology is a double edged sword. I think everyone agrees on this. It distracts us, distorts reality and takes away from meaningful conversations. It also informs us, connects us to friends and family far away and makes things in our lives so much easier. And guess what…… it is here to stay. Because of this, we need to figure out a way to cohabitate together. I sometimes think (others agreed as well) it is more obvious to those of us that have lived with it and without its extreme presence, to see the huge impact this technological era has made. Whether I am wrong in my assumption or not, listen to what this author is saying. Murphy talks about the increase in loneliness, depression, and even suicide (up 30% since 1999). Generation Z (our kids) are the first generation to be truly raised on “screens”. iPads and iPhones were not out right when I had my boys so I lucked out with not having the option to hand them one of those devices from the start. However, it is a big part of their lives now, even if I do not always like it. EVERYTHING is done via text, email, google calendars, etc. Social media is everywhere as well, no matter how hard you try to keep your kids off of it. Where I do see kids/teens using these platforms appropriately, I also see a lot of negativity a damaging behavior. Murphy talks about how loneliness and depression is high among 8th graders. I can totally see how this is possible (having an 8th grader myself). If your head is buried in a phone or on a device, you are not making meaningful connections. You are isolating yourself from human contact. I try so hard to model and teach my boys the importance of friendships and relationships. You need to put work into them to keep them strong. Go bowling, bike riding, skiing, shoot some hoops, etc. Do activities that help connect people. Good old fashioned fun works (easier said than done). I think we all agreed in the discussion that finding a balance is a real struggle. Like many, I do not want to give up the beauty of technology. It’s fun, it’s convenient and it is part of life. I do continue to work on boundaries and the personal impact it has on me, my family and the relationships we have. Sifting out only what serves me in a positive way is my goal. Not only is this an evolving skill, but it will be different for everyone!

We can’t blame technology for everything though. Another topic discussed by Murphy is our eagerness to get to know new people, a stranger if you will. Our heads are constantly down, eye contact is a lost skill and our desire to really get to know other people is lacking. Why? Murphy talks about how when we meet new people, it is common to mentally put someone in a category….almost prejudging. Whether it’s by skin color, activity, sexual preference, homeless, billionaire….you get my drift. By doing this, we are “selectively “ listening to what our preconceived notions are. I hate that this is true. Whether we are the ones prejudging or receiving the prejudgment, it doesn’t feel very great! Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story is NEVER what we presume. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” will always be true!

Busy lives have taken over. Overbooking ourselves, having kids with unbelievable schedules, work lives being our only lives…. who has time to connect with friends and family? Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist said, “a primary way we maintain friendships is through “everyday talk”. This seems so obvious, but difficult to achieve. During our instagram discussion, many who have kids agreed that their social lives were more abundant when their children were younger. They had time for more playdates and adult time. They claimed that as their children got older and had more school/sport activities, their friendships took a back seat and free time to spend with friends became more of a luxury. Sadly, some relationships fizzled due to lack of engagement 😢. Whether you have kids or not, there is no arguing that the pace of life is too FAST.

One part of Murphy’s book that the discussion group found particularly interesting talked about how GOSSIP has a positive social function and makes up “60%” of adult conversations 😯😯🤔🤔! Murphy mentions how gossip helps us decide who is trustworthy. “Listening to gossip contributes to our development as ethical, moral members of society”. If you really stop to think about this, it makes sense. Think about how hard you listen and absorb information from another person when they are “talking” about another person of interest. You can use this information many ways. You can hear what is being said to learn information about another person (true/untrue) or understand the person who is talking (hmmmm). Nevertheless, pay attention to what is being said. Do you see this percentage accurately reflected in your own conversations?

There will never be a “lastly” to this post, because in all honesty, we can talk about it all day. However…Lastly, I was fascinated by Murphy’s information regarding confident people and listening to opposing views. Whether we express them or not, most of us have an opinion or a view on something in life. From book club, to the political arena, to a conversation with a spouse, conversing with someone who has an opposing view happens ALL the time. In Murphy’s book, a Harvard law professor’s students said “they worry that if they really pay attention or really understand the other side’s point of view, they will lose sight of what matters to them”. What I personally found telling was the nationwide survey of college and university students conducted by the Brookings Institution. Listen to how alarming this is. Student protestors often times feel “unsafe” when listening to an opposing view. “Fifty-one percent think it is “acceptable” to shout down a speaker with whom they disagreed and a disturbing 20 percent supported violence to prevent a speaker from delivering an address.” Wow! Murphy said, “we only become secure in our convictions by allowing them to be challenged. Confident people don’t get riled by opinions different from their own, nor do they spew bile online by way of refutation.” Think about all of the online debates, etc. People who lack confidence can seek their own point of view and ignore what they don’t want to hear online. An easy way out. This chapter in Murphy’s book also draws attention to the political world. Is anyone really listening to one another? Think of all the chaos our world has faced through the decades, centuries. Have you ever listened closely to a presidential debate? Does any of this ring true? Yup….it sure does. It is kind of scary at the end of the day. If you “feel” strongly about something, but put up a defense when challenged, something is not lining up correctly. Becoming a better listener will help people stay informed so they can express their own opinions with confidence. I am pretty sure the people running our world need to take a page from this chapter…..don’t you think?

Well readers….I hope you enjoyed that chaotic summary of our Instagram discussion. I hope it prompts you to read this book and have your own book club discussions. Everyone wants to be heard. Let’s start Listening!

All my best to you Mr. H.

Your Biggest Fan,


P.S. “Listening is essential to being funny. A vast body of evidence indicates humor is an asset in forming and maintaining relationships both professionally and personally”. The friends that make you laugh…………are listening ❤️❤️

Click here to purchase You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

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