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.