I’m not a particular fan of Mike and the Mechanics, in fact this is probably the only tune of theirs that I even know! But it is one of those anthems, that will remind me of being a teenager, probably one of those songs at the end of the school discos. Actually I’m being a bit unfair, I do quite like this song!

It came on the radio the other day (Radio 6 music just to restore some of my street cred) and I couldn’t help but zone in on those lyrics “You can listen as well as you hear”. Such a good line.


Everyone thinks they are good listeners, but the truth is that most people aren’t really. There is so much going on to distract us, people have busy lives and speed is usually of the essence. Even when we know it’s important to listen, it doesn’t always happen.

How many times do you have the kind of conversation where someone asks you something, say “how was your week?” and before you’ve got half way through telling them, they say “Ooh I went to the hair dressers on Tuesday, and do you know I bumped into so and so” and then somehow it seems to be their turn to talk. You are left wondering whether they have actually heard a word you have said.

Or have you ever had that experience when you start to tell someone about a really great story, something you are bursting to get out? Then before you get anywhere near the punchline, they trump it with a better one. Didn’t they hear your amazing tale?

It doesn’t even have to be a story, some people just seem to be waiting for their turn in the conversation rather than actually listening at all. This often involves them talking over the end of your sentences.

Perhaps there is someone who tries to answer your questions before you’ve even finished asking them, then gets the wrong end of the stick.

Do you know anyone who finishes off your sentences? So annoying.

What about when you have said something, perhaps about the weather (to choose a stereotypically British concern!) and someone answers with something on an entirely different topic, lets say, what they had for breakfast. Two different conversations can’t really succeed side by side for very long.

Everyone does at least one of these things at some point, it’s just that some people do it an awful lot more than others. While some of these conversational nightmares may well just be down to the way language is used, and some people are indeed a lot better at it than others. A lot of is it down to the simple ability to listen.

The art of conversation is indeed a skill. Being able to ask for things, tell stories, add meaning, clarify things, suggest, inform and do a whole host of other things is something that comes naturally. It is one of the defining characteristics of humans, the ability to use language, to verbalise and articulate with precision and meaning, and to embelish and make it sound interesting, add nuances and humour. But it’s a pretty pointless exercise if there is no one listening at the other end.

There are many reasons why listening seems to have taken a back seat in conversation, not least because the way people communicate is constantly evolving and changing. For example there is much more of an opportunity to broadcast now than ever before, life is more hectic, there is that need to get things done and move on. But conversation is fundamentally a two way thing, and listening is a skill that should not be sidelined. It just won’t work unless there is someone to pick up the linguistic tid bits, and in order to get the juicy bits, it’s important to pay attention. Otherwise there may only be scraps left. So I have to agree with the Mechanics, I think that Mike was right.



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