It’s Nothing Personal; I’m Just Not Listening to You

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By Leann Moczydlowski, Account Executive, R&J Public Relations

At least 6 months ago, I showed my fiancé a recipe I found in Cosmo for grilled pineapples.  My suggestion was immediately blocked at the threshold of his mind by a repulsed stare.  I’m confident my brilliant idea never even had a chance.  Fast forward to a week ago: after a night out with his friends, my fiancé comes home raving about this awesome dish he tried: grilled pineapples.  Apparently, I need to try them because “they’re insane.”  What just happened?

I refer to this phenomenon as “selective listening.”  You hear what you want to hear, when and from whom you want to hear it.  It happens every day to all of us; our internal mute buttons activate to prevent information overload.  My bridesmaid calls to talk about dress issues; my mom calls to talk about a family gathering on Saturday that I just can’t miss; a former professor asks me to guest lecture during his class; my sister calls to complain about her neighbor’s unfaltering love of loud bass levels – MUTE.  We shut down to protect ourselves; it’s a new form of Darwinism.

This week, I came across a video on Huffington Post about millenials.  Being a millennial myself, I un-muted long enough for the speakers to make their point: millenials hate news.  According to research from Paula Poindexter, University of Texas at Austin journalism professor, young people do not make it a priority to stay informed because they feel that media talks down to them, comes off as propaganda, is just plain boring or doesn’t cover issues they consider important.

It’s selective listening.  Between scroll-length to-do lists, constant tweets and Facebook notifications, check-in calls from mom and dad, and countless social engagements scheduled to ensure you don’t end up friendless, it’s exhausting being a millennial.  And after a long day, when choosing between the nightly news or The Voice blind auditions, I’m willing to bet a decent amount that most millenials turn their attention to Adam Levine.  But let’s not get angry about it; let’s not point fingers and deem millenials the lower generation with shallow tendencies and unbecoming priorities.

Instead, let’s tweak our message and get creative.  While I hate absolving my fiancé of blame for anything, perhaps had I just made the grilled pineapples for him to try, my message would have successfully cleared the communication gap.  As communications professionals, it’s our job to understand what triggers the mute reflex.  Our expertise lies in approaching clients’ core issues from different perspectives, suggesting new tones, mediums and mannerisms to ensure their messages don’t fall victim to selective listening.

Conversations are two-way streets.  You can’t talk at someone and force them to listen, though I’ve certainly tried that approach quite a few times.  To successfully communicate with someone, you need to relate to the listener on their level and deliver information in the form they’re accustomed to receiving it.  In order to do this, it becomes our turn to listen.  We need to un-mute long enough to consider failed approaches and deliver new solutions, or millenials will become even harder to reach.

Keep in mind, we’re competing for their attention, and I’ve watched The Voice; the competition’s tough.

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