For many of us our auditory processing system defaults to a deep resting state. This means when we’re not actively listening, our auditory processor screens out all but the most salient auditory stimulus. We may have perfect hearing, but the background information doesn’t rise easily to consciousness. Especially if we’ve dialed up another processing system, for example, we may be deeply concentrating on our reading or our ping-pong game and don’t hear someone calling out to us. This can be baffling, and often frustrating, to those around us.
Paradoxically, we may find high auditory stimulus produces a mild boost to our attention and focus. This stimulus appears to have the counter-intuitive effect that amphetamines like methylphenidate have on attention. Our brains don’t focus on the specific information conveyed the sound, but rather seem to ride it like a wave which seems to raise all our cognitive boats.
People who are selective on the listener scale often find it important to engage in active listening strategies: taking notes, asking questions. Speakers generally welcome questions because they are a signal that someone is engaged in what they are saying. And most people enjoy being encouraged to keep talking.
The exception to wanting to be interrupted will be someone who is delivering a highly prepared speech like a political stump speech or a formal company announcement or policy presentation. In those cases, wait for the question and answer period. It’s always helpful for someone who is selective on the listener scale to engage in checking for understanding. This is when you restate what you think you heard in your own words and ask the speaker if you understood accurately. The format, is “I heard you say ‘…..’ did I hear correctly.” And “I understood you to say ‘. . . . . .’ just now, is that right?” Again, when presented as interest rather than as failure of attention or as challenge, the speaker is usually pleased to be encouraged to elaborate.
My listener goes into a deep resting state. I’ll tend to ignore most ambient sound unless it strikes my brain as conveying important information. I say important information, but this is a tricky concept. Our neuroprocessors tend to make independent decisions about what they consider important.
We often find ourselves in the presence of someone of recognized social importance: our boss, our significant other, a client; however, our auditory processor fails to find important data within their speech output. If we have an auditory processor in a highly active state, it will scan the area for more interesting auditory information and we’ll struggle hold our focus on our esteemed guest.
If we have an auditory processor in a deep resting state, we may struggle to call it into activation, and, once activated, when it fails to hear data it recognizes as important, it drifts back into rest mode.
Alas, our auditory processors are often accurate in their assessments of value on their own terms. However, all day long, we have a social need to override one of our own brain system’s correct, albeit limited, view.
When I’m reading, writing, or working with my hands, my auditory processor deeply rests. It kicks back in my brain’s Barcalounger and chills for while. If you call me without catching my eye, your voice often won’t register. I’ll fail to respond as if I hadn’t heard you.
You might imagine how annoying this could be to a parent, for example my mother, to have me well within earshot, but so deeply engaged in a book or practicing a magic trick I wouldn’t hear her asking me to set the table or take out the trash. I wasn’t ignoring her. Honest.
Tips for selective listeners:
1. Pay attention to energy levels in conversation
2. Ask more questions
3. Take more notes
4. Repeat or restate what you think you heard