Laurel or Yanny

Just a bit of background for those who don’t know is that the title refers to an audio clip which divided opinion last month. Some heard a word as “laurel” and others as “yanny”. I know. I don’t understand either as there is no auditory link as far as I can see-or more accurately hear. The scientific rationale apparently relates to high and low frequencies. There was also  background noise mixed in.

It made me think though about something that I’ve started to notice more and more when mediating, people simply not seeming to hear what’s actually been said, insisting indeed it was something completely other. I’m not talking about what’s quite a common thing which is when one mediation participant says sorry or voices a view different from one adopted at the start. People shifting perspective or acknowledging fault is part of the essential dynamic of mediation. The other person often finds it hard to realise there has been a shift so simply doesn’t hear it. It’s an important part of the mediator’s role to create a pause, go back and repeat what’s just been said to ensure it has been heard.

No, what I’ve noticed increasingly is something completely different. It’s not missing what’s just been said but a total mishear of what either the other person or I has said. The client has heard something but not remotely what was actually said. It’s as if they can only hear words which they have decided in advance will be said. It’s then not just a question of repeating or reframing. It’s as if the listener doesn’t want to accept that they have heard something entirely other than what was actually said. In extreme cases it can be virtually impossible to get them to hear the real words. It’s as if somebody is too occupied with what their mind tells them to expect to allow space for real hearing.

It makes me wonder if, in this age of total connectivity, we are actually losing some vital human skills, not least the crucial ability to relate to real time, real communication face to face. If I’ve become so focused on the next vital thing I need to text, tweet or instagram, does that have more potency than actual dialogue with its shifts and cadences? Am I too involved in what I have to say to listen? Do words become an aural selfie? Are we losing some ability to hear real voices speaking to us, drowned out by the babel of the voices in our earpieces or on our screens?

Whatever the reasons, I just know that there are some mediations where ensuring hearing feels like a bigger challenge that it used to. How do I find communality between such disparate sounds as laurel and yanny?

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