Stop. Listen. What do you hear? Traffic rolling, refrigerator humming, music playing? This is the waiata my house sings as I write.
These sounds will soon give way to chatter after the teenagers return and recap their day, bicker over who ate all the chips and ask if friends can spend the night this weekend.
After dinner, we'll retreat to our separate pursuits - to study, write and play video games.
Many nights, Miss 17 will query me while I'm on my laptop or phone. She scolds me if I fail to look up from the screen and listen.
Unless something's burning, she's right to insist on undivided attention. She forces me to attune my listening skills, to discern not only what she's saying, but why.
Sometimes, the request to watch a funny animal video is as important as the question about her studies. Both are bids for attention.
We know when someone's focusing on our words and when they're not.
I'm guilty of the thousand-metre stare, when concentration wanders and the endless to-do list takes over, looping like a frontal lobe ferris wheel.
What time was that appointment tomorrow? When will I finish marking assessments? Did I leave wet laundry in the washing machine?
"Mum, you're not listening to me!" Busted. So I return to right here, right now. To Focusland.
Each of us has untapped potential to become a good listener.
Studies estimate we spend anywhere from 25 per cent to more than 50 per cent of our time each day listening. It is a habit, not a personality trait, which means we can learn new ways to listen.
I recently showed students in my organisational culture class at Toi Ohomai a short Ted Talk about listening featuring sound and communication expert Julian Treasure.
He says we're losing our listening skills. "We spend roughly 60 per cent of our communication time listening, but we're not very good at it. We retain just 25 per cent of what we hear."
Dismal. One reason for poor aural performance is that we get in our own way during a conversation. Instead of listening, we think of what to say next.
How many groups have you been part of where no one's asking questions? Instead, everyone is waiting for a gap in the dialogue so they can tell their own story. That's not a conversation; it's a series of monologues.
Treasure's tips for better listening:
• Spend three minutes a day in silence. If you can't get absolute silence, go for quiet.
• Focus on an individual channel of sound in a noisy environment. For example, you might tune into the buzz of the coffee machine or to the sounds of chatter in a cafe.
• Use the acronym RASA, which stands for receive, or paying attention to the person; appreciate by making little noises like "oh, okay". Finally, summarise with something like, "So you're saying …" then ask questions afterwards.
We pay a price for poor listening. At work, we create misunderstandings and make assumptions which can lead to errors and costly blunders. On a personal level, we hurt relationships and damage trust.
At its most catastrophic, poor listening risks people's health and lives.
For example, engaging in conversation with someone who is vaccine-hesitant may be futile if we don't listen to understand their concerns.
Failure to listen to a domestic violence victim could mean that person returns to their abuser.
Local and central government officials who fail to listen to diverse viewpoints from constituents and experts risk losing the confidence of people they serve, as well as wasting ratepayer and taxpayer money when a project flops.
At a recent doctor's visit, when I complained of chronic insomnia, the GP paused before outlining potential solutions. "That must be frustrating," he said. Yes. It is.
That simple comment made me feel heard. I don't know if they teach listening in medical school, but it should be taught in all schools.
Already, educators weave elements of listening practice into their lessons when they stop talking to indicate they still have the floor and students need to cut the chatter.
I once watched a Year 7 teacher give a master class in getting kids to listen at school camp after a half-dozen hands shot up at the start of her talk. "Hands down, everyone," she said. "Listen to what I'm saying, because I might answer your question before I'm done."
Research shows listening skills suffer as we age. A US study of 6 and 7-year-olds at school found 90 per cent were listening, compared with 28 per cent of high school students.
Even though we spend more time listening than on any other single form of communication, we receive little or no training in it.
We spend years learning and perfecting reading and writing skills. We may even take a public speaking course. But formal listening lessons? Ever had one of those?
Listening is hard work, because we think much faster than someone can speak. If we don't concentrate, excess brain capacity can allow our minds to wander.
Listening is a gift we give each other. Active listening - the, "Oh, okay," and "So what you're saying is" kind of listening sometimes feels like a lost art.
I raise my head from my laptop to ask Miss 17 a question. No answer. I repeat myself, then say, "Could you remove your earbuds? You're not listening to me."