One time my wife Marie was telling me a story in our kitchen. After a few minutes she asked, “Why aren’t you listening?” I said that I was, and to prove it, even repeated a couple things she had said.
She wasn’t buying it. After some on-the-spot reflection, I recognized she was right. I started off with good intentions, but then got distracted and stopped listening.
It was time to own up. I told her what happened and said I was sorry.
Then I asked, “How did you know?” I was certain I was using many active listening behaviors. I couldn’t figure out how she noticed my inattention.
“It was your eyes” she said. “Earlier in the conversation your pupils were dilating and constricting, and then they became fixed.”
Unbelievable. I was busted because of involuntary pupil reflex.
When I’ve told people this story, they usually offer one of three explanations for why she noticed:
- She’s my wife, and all wives have these super-powers.
- She’s a nurse and trained to look for subtle physical clues.
- It was a safe guess. Husbands are lousy listeners.
I have another theory. All people are good at noticing when others aren’t listening. They can’t always tell you why they know. They just do.
This means fake listening is bad listening. Not only will you miss important information, the person who is talking is going to catch you. And when they do, you’ve got trouble.
So listen well. Learn the skills. Practice them always. And watch out for distractions. It will be worth your time and effort.
Image credit: Riccardo Cuppini