Can You Hear Me Now?

There was a fascinating article in the January 11, 2005 New York Times: you know when you call customer service and a recorded voice says, “This call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes”? It turns out that’s no lie. Even when you’re waiting on hold and talking to your cat or wife or husband or maybe yelling at your kids, somebody may be listening.

The most revelatory part of the article, however, is how hard that job is, to be on quality control and listen to a hundred or so calls a week, evaluating the customer service rep but also listening silently to customers and their rants, sob stories, and in some cases, pick-up lines. There’s a huge turnover rate in these call monitors, and Ken Belson, the journalist who wrote the article, provides a striking insight that explains why: we live in a culture where listening is “a rare commodity” and “the opposite of talking is waiting to talk.”

Belson is dead-on. Listening is a dying art. In America, what counts most is how many words you can get in edgewise before you’re interrupted. And the interuptee, to coin a word, isn’t responding to what you’ve just said, but rather is simply saying something that’s been in his or her mind before you even began to speak.

We live in a world of preemptive interuptions. We live in a world, it seems, of preemptive everything.