Social Networks and the Lost Art of Listening

In a world where social networks have inundated society, bringing about significant changes, a debate arises regarding the alterations made to collective psychology. However, amidst the examination of communication methods, one crucial aspect is often overlooked: the lost art of listening.

Gone are the days when conversations were genuine exchanges of ideas and emotions, where people took the time to understand and empathize with each other's perspectives. Instead, the digital age has bred a culture of instant gratification, where attention spans are shorter than ever, and superficial interactions reign supreme. We have become experts at crafting witty retorts and self-aggrandizing posts, but we have forgotten the art of active listening.

Listening is not merely hearing the words that tumble out of someone's mouth; it is about comprehending the underlying emotions, subtext, and unspoken truths. It requires patience, curiosity, and a genuine desire to understand. Sadly, in our social media-driven society, true listening has become a rare commodity. We skim through messages, formulating quick responses without truly digesting the content. We are more focused on self-promotion and validation than on building meaningful connections.

Understanding a phenomenon requires us to delve into its underlying causes. We find ourselves pondering the reasons why interpersonal communication has become so complex, to the extent that it profoundly jeopardizes relationships and, at times, even leads to economic damages. Having personally witnessed a few job interviews, I have come to comprehend why "companies struggle to find qualified personnel." From an outsider's perspective, a technical interview conducted by HR can be a communicative catastrophe. The HR representatives, in fact, fail to listen to the candidate. Oh, they hear perfectly fine what is being said. But they only perceive it if it fits into a predefined template, the form they need to fill on a computer. And thus, everything spirals into disaster.

The consequences of this communication phenomenon are observable in various dimensions. Take, for example, the habit of interrupting others. Intoxicated by the material possibility of expressing our thoughts at any given moment, we have forgotten that there is no infrastructure separating our response from the rest. However, the issue goes beyond the communication frenzy of sending messages. The real problem lies in our belief that the most competent communicators are advertisers, who operate in a unidirectional manner when delivering messages. Thus, out of the four communication courses I have taken, all have devoted substantial amounts of time to explaining how to send emails, how to speak, how to write, how to create slides—only one touched upon the topic of listening, albeit disguised as "ACTIVE listening." In a world where everyone is actively engaged in communication (because they send messages), it has become inconceivable to consider a concept called "PASSIVE listening"—a type of listening that entails doing absolutely nothing except receiving and decoding.

This phenomenon has two levels of consequences: one pertaining to personal relationships and the other impacting the economy and business interactions. Let's begin by exploring the effects on personal relationships. Dealing with a young individual who is immersed in social media has become an alienating experience. Simply put, they do not listen to what you say. Their response typically starts with "I," which might be considered defensive if they actually heard the message. However, their lack of listening prevents them from understanding whether defense is even necessary, and if so, against what. In this sense, even defense becomes futile. I could easily dismantle any of these youngsters in a technical discussion because they are fighting blindly. Not listening is akin to not seeing. How long do you think you would last in a verbal sparring match when you are fighting blindly? The answer is: only if you fight against another blind person. If you engage in a battle against someone who can see while you are blind, you are doomed. Similarly, entering into a verbal conflict with someone who listens leaves you no escape. You will lose the argument, but fear not: as you lie on the ground, battered and bruised, you will continue boasting about what great fighter you are.

Even beyond the realm of verbal clashes, where the effects are evident, the disappearance of passive listening has led to the demise of another crucial quality. The term "passive listening" can be translated simply into one word: empathy. The problem lies in the fact that, accustomed to communicating as if we were advertisers, many confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy involves silently listening to someone lamenting the loss of their dog and saying, "I'm sorry. Take courage." Sympathy, on the other hand, entails actively listening and interrupting your conversation partner to say, "I understand, my dog died the same way." In some cases, individuals go as far as explaining how they feel to the speaker. The issue, as I mentioned, is that this phenomenon of "being on the same wavelength" is not empathy. It is an ACTIVE listening in which you become actors: your intention may be to explain that you understand the other person because you have experienced the same thing. This sympathy may appear valuable, but it serves only to create a club of the depressed who have lost their dogs. It will not truly help anyone because a person seeking empathy desires to be listened to, not repeated. Becoming mere repeaters does not mean being in tune with another person; it simply creates a choir. The singer sings, and the others listen. If they start singing the same song, you have a choir, not an audience.

The confusion between sympathy and empathy can lead to a superficial and self-centered form of communication. It perpetuates a cycle where individuals seek validation for their own experiences rather than seeking to understand and support others. 

To better understand the fundamental error at hand, it is crucial to grasp one thing: advertisers do NOT know how to communicate. Not in the slightest. They miss the mark entirely. They lack a fundamental understanding of what communication truly means. It is as if they don't even make an effort. And the reason is simple: communication is a dialogue, not merely a shout. Dialogue implies that during the communication process, Joe says something to Jill, and Jill responds to Joe. But advertisers don't grasp this concept. They believe that it is solely Joe who speaks to Jill, and nothing more. The advertiser fails to comprehend that communication ALWAYS and EXCLUSIVELY occurs in duplex. And this does not contradict what was mentioned earlier. The point is that communication requires alternating between two states: the first is, of course, actively speaking, while the second is passively listening. Yet, the advertiser disregards the second factor, deluding themselves into believing that passive listening is a given.

Advertisers approach communication as a one-way street, where their primary focus is on conveying their message without considering the importance of dialogue. They overlook the essence of genuine exchange and fail to recognize that communication is a collaborative process that requires active participation from all parties involved. By neglecting the significance of passive listening, they undermine the potential for true understanding and connection.

If you were to search the market for a course on "passive listening," you would find it to be nearly nonexistent. Besides the fact that "passive" has become almost an insult, the issue lies in the fact that when it comes to communication, everyone wants others to receive what they think, and very few are willing to understand what others are asking for. This has catastrophic effects, especially in business relationships, where a "good communicator" is often seen as someone who delivers an "effective slide," rather than questioning whether the effective slide has been equally effective in listening. Want to know the truth? Nobody gives a damn about your "effective slide," and after five minutes, everyone has forgotten about it. If instead of conducting your survey five minutes after the end of the presentation, you did it a week later, you would easily discover that no one remembers anything. It was incredibly effective, it achieved the WOW effect, and now it's stored away in the same drawer as adult films. They may be highly effective and one-way, with all the WOW you want, but I challenge you to remember the title.

You think your presentation was "effective"? Here is what you did.

In the video you saw , and I hope you "saw it" instead of "watched it", there is everything that advertisers believe  "communication" is. A format. A mere format that is now so overengineered as to completely overpower the content. Let's be clear about one thing: this TED had no content, except that it wanted to CAUSE the birth of content in our minds. Reflection. But this requires having listened to it passively. If you don't listen to it passively, or at all, you will get the impression that the author has said something important. He is not mocking communication. On the contrary: he is using it perfectly. Both in the way advertisers use it and in the way YOU make slides because you've been advised to do so. And the video also told you what people hear. Nothing. None of the business communication techniques have the slightest ability to deliver a message. None. None of them, not even yours, dear reader. None of them work, and that's the reason I'm on my fourth communications course , as are all my colleagues, and so are you in IT: The manager complains that he doesn't understand you. And there's a reason for that: he doesn't listen to you. And to understand a technical person saying technical things, you have to listen to him passively.

In our attempt to become masters of communication, we have completely sacrificed listening. Now, no one listens anymore, and our messages fall on deaf ears.It's like we're children talking to ourselves. We say our things, but we never really listen to each other. And so, we fail to communicate anything.

Advertisers are the masters of this game. They're good at saying the right things, but they never really listen. And so, their messages have no effect. It's a vicious circle. We don't listen, so advertisers don't listen, and so on. And in the end, we all lose. Meaning, advertisement is not relevant anymore.

We have forgotten to analyze the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is not being an audience, but being a chorus, repeating what the speaker says. On the contrary, empathy is a passive listening approach. It is what we do when we read a book, or when we are interested in a person, or when we care about what they say.

By overestimating advertisers, considering them as the masters of communication when they are not even apprentices, as they are so incompetent, we have imitated their style of non-communication, until we have become unable to communicate. Facing any human interaction without listening is like stepping into a ring with your eyes closed. Unless you are fighting with another blind person, you are destined to end up very badly.

The world is full of people who talk, but do not listen. They talk to feel important, to make themselves heard, to impose their opinions. But they do not listen. They do not listen to what others have to say, they do not listen to their experiences, they do not listen to their feelings.

Like advertisers do.

If you're invited to a communication course where they don't talk about passive listening, run away. These courses are a waste of time. Communication is not about sending messages. It's about reading them. 

Just look at the cleavage of your colleagues. Think about your own business. Enjoy the free food. And watch as your classmates get frustrated. They're trying so hard to send brilliant messages. But you're not listening. And you're getting better results than them.

It's your "black magic".