Lent Series

Listening to Our Family and Friends


Friday, March 12, 2021

Listening to Our Family and Friends

by Scott Stoner

During my two years researching a book on listening, I learned something incredibly ironic about interpersonal communication: The closer we feel toward someone, the less likely we are to listen carefully to them. —Kate Murphy

It is ironic that sometimes the people we struggle to listen to are, in fact, the people with whom we are closest. Kate Murphy, author of the best-selling book, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, tells us that researchers have a name for the difficulty we have listening to those we know best. It’s called closeness-communication bias.

Closeness-communication bias means that we think we already know what someone is going to say before they even finish speaking and so we listen half-heartedly. It is a different kind of judgement as it is not based on someone being different from us, but because we think we already know what they would think and say. This type of bias can happen in families, friend groups, and the work place.

In a recent counseling session, a couple shared a powerful insight. They described that when they are each with their friends, they focus on being exceptionally good listeners, asking questions that draw their friends out, and being genuinely curious about what their friends have to say. They went on to reflect that they rarely extended that same kind of openness and attentiveness to each other, and vowed to make a change. Without using the term, they were recognizing that they had fallen into the rut of closeness-communication bias.

Sometimes it is hard to listen to the neighbor in our lives who is far away from us. And sometimes it is even harder to listen to the neighbor who is the closest of all to us.

Making It Personal: What stood out for you in this reflection? Is there a friend, family member, or colleague with whom you regularly interact that you want to listen to with a fresh curiosity and openness? How might your new type of listening change that relationship?

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