Tuesday, June 12th, 2012
This is a common complaint in marriage and other partnerships including business and family – “Just listen to me. Don’t try to solve my problems. Just be quiet and listen.”
Seems simple enough until you parse the verb a bit. What does listening mean? Different things to different people so it turns out.
Parents, especially moms, talk about active listening and passive listening with their children. Active listening is when you engage the speaker with your verbal summaries, concluding thoughts, various attempts at empathy, nods and affirmative grunts. Passive listening is when you pay attention but say not much, just vector in, eye-to-eye. I like the latter kind of listening a lot more. But there are other definitions of listening as well.
The other day in my office someone said, “I just want to be heard.” Here is what she seemed to mean:
First, listen deeply and thoroughly to my point of view.
Second, accept my point of view as true or at least more true than yours.
Third, change your thinking and behaviour in accordance with my point of view.
Fourth, advocate for my point of view that you now thoroughly endorse.
Otherwise, I will not feel heard, she seemed to be saying. In fact, she did not feel heard or understood in her family of origin (that is, her growing up family), in her marriage and also felt that her pastor minimized her thoughtfulness. She felt alone, misunderstood and antagonized by various other non-hearers.
Sometimes we can ask to be listened to when what we want is to be agreed with. Different.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
“I can’t speak with you right now. I am in the middle of a sentence.”
“You know, you don’t have to say everything you know.”
I learn great things from my client friends. The first comment came from a couple interchange that was lively, funny, heated, pointed – good conflict, in other words. The second comment was reported by a man who discovered that he didn’t have to win every argument, position himself in every discussion or make a comment on the wary ways of his teenagers.
There are thought to be three basic styles of listening, one better than the other two.
1) The first is “listening to be right.” Competitive listening happens when we are more interested in winning a verbal war or promoting your own point of view, than in understanding somebody else or their thoughts. It is the communication style of the arrogant (“Knowing it all, why would I waste time understanding someone else?”).
2) In “hearing” (“I heard what you said!”) the listener is passive, meandering in and out of the verbal stream, not engaged enough to make a comment, not passionate enough to disagree, and not thoughtful enough to carry the conversation further. Weak and wimpy or, at best, distracted and dismissive, less a communication style than a communication impairment.
3) Participative listening creates a partnership, a team activity with all the cooperation and friction this implies. Engagement is high because you are interested, expressing interest and inviting interest. It is interesting conversation and it goes somewhere and with some panache (a word my Dad used which still sounds wonderfully soul-ish to me).
It might be helpful to know the ways of a listener. I feel myself irritated with me when I listen to prove my rightness; and I feel even more miserable when I sense someone is waiting to find my logical fault. But I love talking when there is an interchange of meaning and (e)motion. It feels to me like being a member of a motorcycle gang (the friendly kind), all of us moving in the same direction, creating lots of lovely Harley noise, and with élan (another word my Dad used to use).
Saturday, January 29th, 2011
“When we feel lonely we keep looking for a person or persons who can take our loneliness away. Our lonely hearts cry out, ‘Please hold me, touch me, speak to me, pay attention to me.’ But soon we discover that the person we expect to take our loneliness away cannot give us what we ask for. Often that person feels oppressed by our demands and runs away, leaving us in despair. As long as we approach another person from our loneliness, no mature human relationship can develop. Clinging to one another in loneliness is suffocating and eventually becomes destructive. For love to be possible we need the courage to create space between us and to trust that this space allows us to dance together.” (Henri Nouwen)
Friday, June 18th, 2010
Job had his counsellors and they were pretty good until they started to talk. At that point, they spiraled down — and quickly. Here are the kind of things people say to depressed people when they should probably just go home.
• Just think of those people who are worse off than you are.
• Life’s not fair.
• Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t help.
• Make a decision not to be so depressed.
• Snap out of it!
• Just get active and you will be fine tomorrow.
• It’s probably grief, or anger, or loss, or poor self-esteem, or something like that.
• Have you tried chamomile tea (or whatever)?
• I know how you feel. I was depressed for several days a couple of months ago.
• Haven’t you grown tired of all this “me, me, me” stuff?
It doesn’t take a professional counsellor to listen deeply and respond slowly. You can do it.