Multitasking and conversation don’t mix.

I came across this article (pictured below, with text typed out for your convenience) while browsing through the magazine Psychology Today while at the library this afternoon, regarding why one may feel not truly listened to when the person whom you’re talking to seems to be doing something else, even if that person were to be able to recite what you’d just said verbatim (word for word).

Communication is very much more than just hearing the words and memorising what that person just said. I think it’s quite like when the music on the radio’s too soft to be heard except for the major beats and rhythms — though you may know what song is playing and can more or less make out the melody, the experience of the song is completely flat as when compared to the if the music was turned up just right.

Conversation is not multitask-able
Conversation is not multitaskable

Here’s the text in the article (it’s the kind of article where readers submit their problems and an expert tries to help them out):


Reader’s letter: My fiance is a wonderful man, and we have a happy life together. But there is one big thing we can’t seem to reach an agreement on. He thinks it’s normal that, when I’m speaking to him, he can text on his cell phone, do stuff on the computer, or play his guitar. He thinks that’s just the way the communication has evolved in our society, and that he’s perfectly capable of doing any of these things while attentively listening. But I feel unimportant, not special, and not very loved. I feel like shutting down. When I ask him to please look at me when I speak to him, he insists I am displaying a “Marie Antoinette attitude” and demanding the world to stop what it is doing just to “drink my words.” I am having a hard time accepting this.

Experts’ response: Do we need to drag out the studies showing that he’s deceiving himself? The thing about multitasking is that it breeds overconfidence in one’s capacities. And passively listening, to whatever degree he’s hearing the words that you utter, is hardly the same as being engaged in a conversation, which is a fairly minimum requirement for intimiate relationships–any relationships. Remind Textboy that personal relationships are “personal” for a reason. If he can’t give that, what else is there? Of course you feel like shutting down when you’re not getting it. By not paying attention to you when you’re talking, he is communicating plenty — that you’re not as important as his cell phone or his guitar. Then there’s the fact that there’s much more to communication than hearing some words; a great deal of information is transmitted nonverbally. I doubt whether Textboy would be so keen on texting if his boss asked him to come in for a chat. Looking someone in the eye is the primary path to being understood, and to do less than that is uncivil and disrespectful. That’s the core problem — the disrespect. That’s why it hurts and prompts you to shut down. The next time he wants to talk to you, be sure to have your cell phone handy and get busy with it, without explanation. A dose of his own disrespect might speak louder than your words. [END]

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