The Myth of Multitasking and the Power of Listening

Today’s world seems to demand that we be master multitaskers. In a fast-paced culture of iPhones and instant gratification, our attention is often split in many directions. Let’s face it: multitasking is a myth.

What does this mean when it comes to communicating within a relationship?

No doubt, being a good listener is a crucial aspect of being a good husband or wife. But in today’s environment of constant sensory overload, the practice of being a good listener can really take some discipline and practice!

The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking and Marriage

I used to think I was made to multitask, because I really like combining activities like running on the elliptical with reading a book. But I’ve since realized that if I’m involved in a conversation, I can be seriously terrible at doing other tasks, even menial ones.

Take, for example, the time when a friend called me to make sure I’d taken the right road out of his neighborhood in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I had, but then I got so involved in my conversation with him that I just kept driving straight and ended up in Gary, Indiana!

Today, my fiancé knows that if I’m telling him a story, I may be chopping carrots for dinner in theory, but in practice that carrot is not actually going to be chopped until after I’m finished recounting the tale.

It seems I’m not alone in this. Studies in psychology and psychiatry have shown that true multitasking is, in most cases, a myth. Our brain can’t focus on two things at one time; it just shifts attention from one to the next very rapidly.

On a practical level, my fiancé and I have recognized this reality in a lot of little ways; so we try to be aware of it, be considerate and adapt. When he sees that I’m attempting to chop carrots while explaining something, he often takes over the task himself (mainly out of hunger, I imagine!).

I know that when he drives, anything I tell him won’t necessarily be fully absorbed, because he’s focused on the road. And if I say “oh!” because I forgot to mention something to him earlier, he will think I’ve seen an obstacle ahead. Now I try to contain my exclamations in the car.

Becoming Good Listeners

The effort to be good listeners isn’t merely a way to avoid problems. It also draws a couple closer.

I remember well that in the first months when I was spending time around my (now) fiancé, he would often mention or recall little things that I had said in the past, whether directly to him or in a group setting. That kind of attentiveness really sparked my interest, and it’s one of the reciprocal factors that keeps our relationship going today.

For all of us, half of the battle is realizing that we aren’t as perfect as we’d like to be when it comes to listening well.

Lent is an especially good time to humbly come to terms with our shortcomings.

While I’ve provided somewhat superficial examples above, our incapacities to fully listen to one another can prove seriously detrimental to all kinds of relationships.

As Catholics, the Church’s sacraments give us a model of right relation with both God and others. Before receiving First Communion, for instance, we participate in Reconciliation.

So too is the recognition of roadblocks to effective communication a necessary step towards greater communion with the people we love.

So, this Lent, take a second to clear your mind and really listen!

For some tips on successful communication, check out Are You Really Listening? Keys to Successful Communication, published by Ave Maria Press. 

About Tania Mann

Tania Mann is an editorial intern at Ave Maria Press and a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame. Tania and her soon-to-be husband will be married this summer.

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