Is Anybody Listening?

many talk but few listen

Right Place – Right Time

Posted on | January 15, 2013 | No Comments

What to say is one thing – but where to say it is quite another. In the days of the physical market place it may have been a lot easier.

Or you could put ads in the newspapers or on the radio or TV. Even that was relatively simple, but it required a degree of background knowledge to speak to the right audience.

Today, thanks to new technologies and especially the Internet and mobile phones, the job of selecting the most appropriate channels is increasingly complex. The fact that it is constantly changing does not help.

This raises a whole host of issues.  If we ask “Is anybody listening?” how can we be sure? We might even be saying all the right things – and saying them in an appealing format – but in the wrong place.

Happily there are some principles we can appeal to that will help us stay focused and attract an audience.

  • Go where they are to find out what their marketplace is
  • Stay close to the listener – to understand their needs and interests and the current fads
  • Do your research well – and don’t rely on guesswork
  • Face up to the facts – don’t deny them! If research shows you have no listeners it is probably true!
  • Multi-channel and cross-plug. Don’t pin all your hopes on one medium but get them to play off each other

The Sandy Hook Tragedy

Posted on | December 14, 2012 | No Comments

News has just broken of the horrendous elementary school shooting in Connecticut. Too often have we seen this kind of senseless tragedy where schools have provided the backdrop. This time there were twenty 5-10 year-old children among the 26 dead. The lone gunman had reportedly also killed his parents, first his father at home and then his mother, a teacher at the Sandy Hook Elementary school. The children killed were those in her class.

It raises once again so many serious questions, not least on the topic of gun control. Perhaps more searching is the question “why?” What would prompt a 24- year-old to perpetrate such an unfeeling crime?  We don’t know enough at this point to reach any conclusions.

In similar instances we often find that the gunmen have been loners, angry people, perhaps bullied.  By taking such drastic action they are trying to make a statement. They want to be heard.

If only they had been heard sooner….

It’s Surprising What You Hear…

Posted on | October 8, 2012 | No Comments

Telling our stories is very much in vogue these days – and it has never been easier. I have been writing up some of my “adventures” for a few years already – spurred on by those who keep saying to me “Why don’t you write a book?” A blog seems a good place to start. Besides, if I wait too long, I shall begin to lose much of the detail with the passage of time.

Here in UK the BBC has also been running a very interesting enterprise known as The Listening Project. Apparently it is patterned after StoryCorps in the USA. This week they have been promoting it again. Their by-line is quite catchy: It’s surprising what you hear when you listen...

That struck me. It is also right in line with what this blog is all about – the need for better listening. Beyond that , too, to examine if people really are listening – and if not why not?

The central idea of the Listening Project is that two people get together to talk and tell their stories – any kind of stories. And they record their stories and send them in to the BBC for their archives. The idea is that it builds a more composite picture of what makes British people tick. What problems and challenges they face, what their disagreements, their victories, their secrets – in fact anything they want to. It reminds me of the highly-rated book by American journalist Studs Terkel called “Working” in which people talk about their jobs, what they do all day and how they feel about it (back then in the early 1970s). An interesting snapshot in time. Today those stories would possibly sound a lot different.

Perhaps it is hardly surprising that people like to hear other people’s stories – ordinary people just like them, talking about ordinary things that we can identify with. It is good therapy for all of us just to take time to listen.

Oh, and if you want to read any of my stories you can find them at

What I said – what you heard…

Posted on | September 28, 2012 | No Comments

The news in UK this past week has spent a lot of time covering two stories – one about top-flight footballer John Terry and the other concerning senior politician Andrew Mitchell. Both stories focused on what they claim they said against accusations based on what people say they heard.

In theory these should both be one and the same.

This opens up some very fascinating discussion. It reminds me of what has been described as the six dimensions of interpersonal communication:

  • What I want to say
  • What I say
  • What I think I said
  • What you want to hear
  • What you hear
  • What you think you heard

The key question  is then posed: Which of these six is the most important?

We could debate the answers for a long time – and people can defend them with good justification. But ultimately the arguable conclusion is the last one – What you think you heard. The underlying reason for this  is that this what stays with the recipient and will shape their opinions, their recollection and ultimate actions. That is the bottom line – and nothing else matters to the same extent.

This means that if damage was done then damage will remain, no matter how much we may want to argue the case – whether footballer or politician.

Sadly, in our imperfect world, the recipient may have heard wrongly. I have never forgotten being accused (by an older family member) of once saying something (a swear word!) which I know I did not say – the person sadly mis-heard.  That hurt… and I resented it. I have also never forgotten it.

But it does reveal once again how important words are – and how careful we need to be in choosing them. They are our responsibility. The Bible also reminds us that it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks…

Our words reveal who we are.

Listen to the Crowd…!

Posted on | August 5, 2012 | No Comments

The roar of the Olympic crowds has been deafening. Competing on home turf has meant enormous support for home athletes, teams and crews.

It has also given them a significant advantage  Rowing crews described the impact as being like that of having an extra person in the boat as they approached the final strait. The cheers of support in the cycling velodrome made the whole place vibrate – almost to the point of pain…

Under such circumstances there are only two kinds of messages from the crowd: cheers of support or boos of disapproval. Happily the British crowds are usually very generous, cheering quality athletes from any country so long as they are not competing against a Brit!

Listening to the crowd therefore has a huge impact. It is not the kind of thing that can be ignored. It is a powerful force that human beings communicate to indicate solidarity and support – and is worth every ounce as we compete to do the right thing on the world stage. Boos, equally, indicate we are out-of-step and do not find approval. That sends a strong message too. But it also assumes that the crowd is right.

The crowd sometimes gets it wrong. The Jewish crowd got it terribly wrong when Jesus was put up for trial on false charges. They yelled for Barabbas – a notorious criminal – to be released and Jesus to be crucified. The crowd also stoned Stephen to death – basically for speaking the painful truth.

Let’s hope we find the encouragement we need and provide the crowds with the reward of success or evidence of a job well done. And if they are booing…we may need to examine ourselves.


Listening as Therapy

Posted on | July 20, 2012 | No Comments

No, I am not a therapist, but I have noticed how much people are helped when we simply listen.

Sometimes we don’t even need to say anything, but just listen. That was something else I learned from my wife…

I remember once when she came home after visiting someone facing difficulties. The lady poured out her heart – and my wife said very little. Just listened. When it was time to go the lady told her how much help she had been. As my wife recounted it to me she told how the lady had simply talked and talked – while she had virtually said nothing!

How does that work? I don’t fully understand it but one thing is clear: some people just need to know that someone hears them and takes on board what they say.

We might be tempted to think this is a women’s thing, but I have met many lonely men in the same boat. It is especially hard for people who live on their own. For them their understanding pets become their audience. But for those who don’t keep pets…?

Happily, listening is something we can all do. We don’t need a study program or impressive qualifications. But we may have to master that bad habit of turning people off when they want to dump…especially in our busy lives.

What If I Listened More…?

Posted on | July 12, 2012 | No Comments

This is a big one – because it strikes deep at who I am….

Not long after getting married I noted that my wife said very little – and I was doing all the talking. So I asked her why…

Her reply was very blunt: “What’s the point, because you never listen anyhow…?” Ouch! That hit hard – but it has never been forgotten.

Part of my difficulty was that I had lived on my own for the past few years and so had no one to talk to. Now, at last, I had an audience right on hand…

Even today I struggle to be a good listener. My wife tells me she notices when she has lost my attention because I develop that far-away look… My mind has taken off in a new direction triggered by what I have heard. This is the downside of having a fertile mind…!

But when I listen more there are some clear benefits… Let’s list some of the ones that stand out:

  • Other people feel they are important and have something to say
  • I learn more
  • I also benefit from their input
  • My perspectives are modified and enriched by what I have heard – even though it may not be what I was looking for
  • We move forward together with a more balanced and complete understanding
  • I earn greater respect in the process
  • Our relationship is strengthened

Can’t be bad! Then why is it so difficult?

Ears that Hear

Posted on | June 1, 2012 | No Comments

How often have you been told that you have ‘cloth ears’? It used to happen to me with my Mum. “Didn’t I just tell you…?” etc.
While there are several theories about the origins of the expression it seems likely from one of Samuel Pepys’ diaries (May 1 1663, in fact) that cloth ears were devices worn by horses. They were intended to help them cope with noisy crowds.
In these days of “noise” of various kinds we can easily tune out. We have to! Imagine tuning in to every conversation we overhear – or every radio programme playing in the background. Or the sound of passing traffic, or planes flying overhead. It could drive us insane.
In other words our ears are usefully selective. We don’t have to listen intently to everything hitting our ear-drums — thankfully! Sometimes we just enjoy being lost in our own thoughts.
We just have to make sure that we tune in to those things that are important – either for our own good, or for the good of others that need an ear.
Sadly many audio devices these days force people to retreat into their own private world. Seeing ear plugs in a person’s ear I hear them saying loud and clear “DO NOT DISTURB”. Even travelling on public transport – buses, trains, planes – we used to chat with the person beside us, but no more. The trouble is that when we do strike up a conversation we may find the other person just wants to unload on us… Why? Perhaps there are too few of us around who are really willing to listen.

Why Did We Not Listen…?

Posted on | May 10, 2012 | No Comments

This week we heard of nine men found guilty of grooming then farming out young girls for sex. These were all vulnerable teenagers, many of whom were in care, and all open to exploitation.
Some had appealed for help but their cries had gone unheard when they had reported what was going on. Now the full scale of the exploitation has been uncovered and the public is horrified by the shocking details.
“Why did we not listen to children who had been exploited by sex gangs?” someone asked on the radio. Someone else pointed out that it had been swept under the carpet for fear of stirring up racial tensions in the community. (All those found guilty were Asians).
If we were honest we might find that we too are guilty of turning a deaf ear to those vulnerable people in society. Things can get messy very quickly if we interfere, we reason. Personal experience may have taught us that already, (We can’t be too careful, can we…?). So we pass by on the other side…
Are there not many around us who are in need of help even though they don’t express it in words? Why do we not listen?
May God give us the grace to listen – and hear…and be stirred by compassion to do something!

Not Listening to Each Other?

Posted on | April 24, 2012 | No Comments

The speaker on the radio spoke of the dangers of not listening to each other. When that happens communication breaks down. It is not a good place to be… It could mean that it is too late and the point pof no return has been reached.
The context was the issue of assisted dying. Both sides have good things to say but if we are not careful opinions will polarise and the path toward constructive dialogue is cut off.
The way back can be very difficult. Something has to give…
That reminds me of an amusing incident I witnessed recently. It took place at a very narrow bridge across the Tamar River, connecting Devon to Cornwall. The traffic that Saturday morning had seized up. Few of us could see the bridge itself. Curiosity revealed the cause of the problem – two cars and their drivers were facing off against each other in the middle of the bridge! Neither would back down.
Finally a resolution was achieved as one car reversed back to let the other through. What had convinced the driver we shall never know but good sense had prevailed.
When communication breaks down it is a similar process that has to take place. Someone has to humble themselves. It may mean asking forgiveness or saying sorry but in the final analysis that is where the strength lies.

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