Although this book’s promise of life-changing content didn’t quite materialise for me, Murphy has correctly identified a problem. We like to think social media has broadened our horizons, giving us access to voices we would never previously have heard, but the way we engage with these voices is very superficial. “It’s hard to concentrate on the real world when you’re preoccupied with the virtual one,” she writes, arguing in passing that journalists’ fondness for picking out and quoting Twitter and Facebook posts, “rather than going out and getting quotes that come from actual people’s mouths”, may partly explain the media’s failure to anticipate Trump’s victory and the Brexit vote.
So how do we plug ourselves back into our communities? By using our ears again. It isn't easy. Many of the people Murphy spoke to freely admitted they were terrible listeners. She offers tips on good listening from successful CEOs, teachers, scientists, athletes, chefs, economists, creative artists and even con men. She learned that we can all improve our 'active listening' skills to reconnect with those closest to us, as well as people we meet on trains or in work corridors.
The book’s jacket makes a lofty and bold claim: “This book will transform your conversations, your relationships and your life.” It’s perhaps more accurate to say that Murphy offers plenty for her readers to think about.
Ultimately, You’re Not Listening ends up in a curious spot on the publishing terrain: somewhere between a very extended (albeit engaging), newspaper article and an enlightening snapshot on the human condition. Wouldn’t you know it: we’re missing more than you might think.
I am not wholly sold on Murphy’s argument that there is an epidemic of bad listening brought about by technology. It is hard to measure such things and easy to conjure a mythical time when people had few distractions and truly listened. It could well be that 18th-century salons were full of people talking over each other, or so preoccupied with their bon mots that they barely heard anyone else. Indeed some researchers argue that social media has widened our networks of different opinion. Yet You’re Not Listening is an instructive and thought-provoking book that will help readers think about the way they frame questions and responses to forge intimacy, or as Murphy puts it: “What we all want most in life — [is] to understand and be understood.”
Murphy’s book is intelligent and thought-provoking, and although I’m allergic to self-help mantras, there’s useful advice on how to listen to teenagers and build relationships. Listening is when someone takes a real interest in who you are, and at its most successful it offers a snatch of parent-child magic, a moment of attunement and understanding that sticks in both heads. We could all do with some.
"It's time to stop talking and start listening." In this powerful and potentially life-changing book—a Vintage lead title for 2020—the US journalist author argues that in this age of technology and political division, actually just listening is more important than ever. In a part expose, part rousing call to action, and part manual of practical advice, she aims to restore the art of listening to its rightful prominence. The book looks to be to listening what Susan Cain's Quiet was to introversion. I think each and every one of us could probably take a leaf out of it.