Ditch the distractions and listen up!

 //  Sep 5, 2013

Ditch the distractions and listen up!

Several months ago, I was invited to do a radio interview.

"Why do they want you?" asked my 93-year-old mother.

"They think I'm an expert on the topic," I said.

"God help them."

My sentiments exactly.

These days, it's all about "leaning in" to get ahead. But as educator and editor Rebecca Alber notes, "listening up" is just as important.

"Good listeners are both rare and valued in our culture," Alber writes in this Edutopia post, which offers five ways to cultivate listening skills in the classroom.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) is the latest poster child for distraction. He learned a valuable lesson on Capitol Hil recently: Don't play smartphone poker during speeches about Syria.

"As much as I like to always listen in rapt attention [to] my colleagues over a three-and-a-half-hour period," McCain told The Washington Post, "occasionally I get a little bored."

He has a point. Who among us hangs on Secretary of State John Kerry's every word—or, for that matter, John McCain's? We can all be a bore. Just ask my mother.

But indulging in continual digital distractions, like so many mouthfuls of virtual candy, is unhealthy, says MIT professor Sherry Turkle.

"People are texting in church, they're texting during corporate board meetings, parents are texting during breakfast with their kids," Turkle said today in a radio interview. "We're intolerant of the boring bits in life."

Why not edit out the boring parts? For one thing, our capacity for surprise is quickly diminishing. So is our ability to listen to and learn from those around us.

"We don't know in conversations when the important moments of revelation are going to come," Turkle says. "In normal human interchange, we find ourselves sparked at moments that are unpredictable."

So put down that gadget and listen up. Surprise yourself.


I will always remember my

I will always remember my high school French teacher reminding us that "you need to learn to listen before you can listen to learn."