Sunday, June 27

Talk Less - Listen More

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

Confused? Yeah, me too!

Want to be a better parent, spouse, or friend? Talk less, listen more. That's it. Four words and you didn't have to spend any money on a book, counselor, or parenting class. Not many things say "I love you" more than giving your time and undivided attention to someone. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is.
Especially in today's high tech society, we often half-listen to people while our cell phone is chirping at us; or we nod and say "mm hmm" while we're simultaneously thinking; 'what can I make for dinner tonight?, I wonder if I turned the coffee maker off this morning...why is she wearing chartreuse, doesn't she know her complexion is too sallow for chartreuse?'

Lack of good communication can lead to a whole host of marital problems, and even more frightening, when we're too "busy" to _really, truly, deeply listen_ to our kids, we could miss some major signals that they're either consciously, or unconsciously wanting us to know about their lives. Kids will often speak in roundabout ways, waiting for parents to solve the puzzle and realize that they need our help with a situation they've found themselves in. God forbid we're too busy blogging, texting, or worrying about the house being a mess, and fail to be there when they need us. Another problem that can interfere with 'active' listening is thinking you already know where the other person is going. Sure, sometimes you do, but not always. Better to pay attention and be positive. Particularly with intimate relationships this can be problematic. We're so used to hearing that person talk, and we often think we know them, inside and out, but if that were true in all cases, I doubt the divorce rate would be as high as it is.

Just to let you know, I'm speaking to myself as much as anyone else. I'm ashamed to admit that I've been guilty of absentmindedly pretending to listen while my son was talking, only to find out later there was a problem that could have been nipped in the bud, had I been actively listening. Important to keep in mind is that listening is not just done with the ears. It's watching body language, keeping eye contact, looking for signals or unexpressed emotions. Connecting physically can really enhance your listening and tune you into what the other person wants you to hear. Take their hands in yours while they talk. This simple form of contact makes it much more difficult for your mind to wander, and at the same time it shows the person talking that you truly care what they have to say.

Repeat key points back, saying something like, "I want to make sure I'm understanding you, so what you're saying is, _________________?" Again, this shows the speaker that you care enough to want to be sure you're 'getting' what they're expressing, and if not, you've just given them an opportunity to clarify themselves.

I think the Indian Philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti says it beautifully: "So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.


Angie said...

I suck at this! Maybe I should practice...

Michele Chastain said...

You're not alone. Most of us do. :/ I'm going to begin practicing this myself.

Karen Mortensen said...

Wow. Those are great words. I need to remember this when school starts in Aug.

Double Wide Mom said...

great words and reminder. thanks.

Anonymous said...

We had that on our kitchen wall as kids in the 60's and 70's. Interesting now, remembering drug addicted brother gave it to Mother.