There are a plethora of articles that support or condemn multitasking. Some say it takes 23% longer to finish one item when you multitask. Others say the brain is evolving and could potentially compartmentalize tasks simultaneously, like a computer. While both comments may have merit, there is an aspect of multitasking that is almost never discussed. That is the conversational multitasker.
The conversational multitasker is one who listens to another person as they reference their experience and knowledge to understand or validate what the speaker is saying. This is multitasking because the listener is actually listening to two conversations simultaneously. They are listening to what the speaker is saying and they are listening to their interpretation, which is a conversation about what the speaker is saying.
While many may acknowledge this process, it is difficult to distinguish the amount of conversations happening in the mind of the listener. For example, if the speaker talks about the color blue, the listener may have flashbacks of the midnight blue car their dad drove when they were young. The memory could evoke great feelings of their dad driving and the fascinating views the listener saw while in the car.
Furthermore, when the listener is listening to their experience in their mind about their dad's blue car, they are living in the past. As they relive the past, they are not present to the present - the speaker. This form of multitasking causes the listener to miss part of what the speaker is saying. As a result, the outcome can often be miscommunication. In the worst case, it can turn into an argument.
At the same time, the listener may not be very interested in what the speaker has to say. He or she may only be interested in what they agree or disagree with. Therefore, they may not be listening to the words of the speaker. They are simply listening to a representation of what the speaker is saying. In other words, if the speaker says things that match the listeners past experience or education, it is likely the listener will agree with the speaker. The opposite holds true for disagreement.
In the event the listener has no point of reference for what is being said to him, he may not know if he can agree or disagree. He may elect to ignore it. Or he may go into a state of confusion. One way to defend being in a state of confusion is to disagree with the speaker and insist the speaker is incompetent on the subject. To do this, the listener must run a list of conversations in his or her mind to determine how to respond to the confusion, all the while not fully listening to what is being communicated by speaker.
As you can see, the conversational multitasker can be a messy job. He can ruin great relationships simply because he tries to understand everything through that which he already understands. This is problematic because no one knows everything. If he encounters something that is outside of his experience or knowledge, he may try to make it fit what he already knows. Or she may invalidate it.
Some of you may be thinking to yourself: "that's just your point of view". The moment you have that conversation with yourself, you have engaged in conversational multitasking. Any comment you make is predicated on what you already know, the past.
Perhaps children have an advantage. They do not have an extensive past. In some cases, they have no past to reference. Instead, children take every experience as an opportunity to learn something new. They don't compare new information to the past. They simply understand what is occurring in front of them for what it is.
As for adults, the power comes when you can distinguish your conversational multitasking. The moment you do you will have the power of choice. You can continue to choose to listen to your past. Or you can hear what is being communicated to you with nothing added.