Will You Just Listen to Me?!

Listen to me!!!

Are you listening?I hear it all the time.

They don’t listen to me!

More often than not we don’t ‘hear’ because we are too busy listening and deciding how we will respond.

Often our responses can be in defence of something that’s being brought to our attention that we did, or we are genuinely trying to help so we are coming up with some brilliant solutions to solve the other person’s problems, or we say sorry quickly and don’t really understand what’s going on. 

None of those options work well.

Its not that we’re coming from a bad place. So often we witness another’s suffering so we listen and then offer some solutions to help ease their pain. More often than not, at least initially when one shares a struggle with you that’s not what they’re looking for – they want to be understood – that’s it.

After attending a couple’s retreat this summer with John Gottman, the world’s leading researcher on what makes relationships thrive, we learned some incredible tools that should be taught in every grade and level of post secondary institutions; it’s easy and effective.

His work is so accurate that he can predict with 91% accuracy whether or not a couple will be together 5 years after watching them interact for 15 min. He and his wife have developed specific tools to help people feel understood and listened to from this research.

The truth is most arguments escalate when one of the partners feels unseen and understood.  We don’t actually have to agree to have a deep and caring relationship. This applies to relationships at work and at home.

Think of when someone shares a struggle with you and you go into problem solving, even those situations can end up in an argument and at times have you stumped as to how that even happened.
SO how do we express understanding and create a deeper sense of helping others feel seen and understood? Let’s take it straight from Dr. Gottman himself

Step 1: Prepare yourself

  • Shift your focus away from yourself
  • Postpone your agenda,
  • Tune into the other’s pain, even if you don’t agree
  • Try to see the situation from their perspective

Step 2: Attune

  • Ask open ended questions that cant be answered with yes or no “how’s that feel?”, “what’s that like for you”
  • Do not ask “why”
  • Be empathic, which means try to hear the underlying emotion and think of when you’ve experienced a similar emotion, not in the same circumstance necessarily, tap into what that was like
  • Communicate understanding “I can understand why you feel like that”
  • You are observing, not judging their experience or emotions

A conversation might start like this:

“I’m exhausted with all the kid activities – I can’t carry one like this”

Optional response:
“You take on so much, I don’t know why you get so worked up, ask another parent to drive a couple times a week” Conversation is wrapped up, quick and simple – you’re a freakin’ genius, solved yet another problem and even recognized one of their primary issues at the same time! 

If you’re really brave try out “I told you not to sign them up for so many things, what do you expect?” Get ready to duck if you’re going to lob that back in response.

You’re partner is smart – they would have most likely mentioned that they couldn’t figure something out and would like your opinion if that was the issue.

Another situation…Your teenage comes home and says she’s getting bugged at school. One could respond with some suggestions for finding new friends. Simple really! Dang we are good at this! Bring on the problem and we’ll solve it!

Are we really listening? Do we really understand? Do we really see?

Wonder why some arguments escalate? Gottman says it primarily from people feeling like they are not seen.

People can figure out their own problems, if they want your expertise they will ask for exactly that.
In the meantime try listening to understand, to see what’s really going on.  Perhaps there is more than the surface issue and taking the time to really hear will create a new level of intimacy and a deep ‘seeing’ of the other.  This brings life and deep connection.
So “I’m exhausted with all the kid activities – I can’t carry on like this”

Try- “Sounds tough (guessing at what they might be feeling-you don’t have to be right), tell me what’s going on”

Ahhhh a blessed invitation to go deeper and explore…

They continue… you respond “That is stressful…what else is going on?”

They continue or not and you say something like “what can I do?” or “thank you for telling me, that means a lot to me”

By thanking them for telling you they feel like you’re in their corner, your honoured to know what’s going on for them. It takes courage to admit you’re not a parenting super hero or someone is picking on you.

Even if it started with “You never help me!” (youch – that can sting!) and then they went into their overwhelm, you can try the same technique and see how it works. Next time around I will be talking about how to bring up issues that increase your chance of being heard, which is the biggest indicator of how a disagreement will end.

In the meantime, if you can:

  • Over look the attack (if there is one)
  • Ask what’s going on
  • Guess/imagine  what they might be feeling
  • Think about a time that you felt a similar way (may have been for a totally different reason
  • Listen to their world/get their perspective
  • Set your opinion and perspective aside

So many arguments would be diffused and intimacy would be greatly increased and by you modelling this you may also get it in return.

More love, more connection, more synchronicity.

More Yum – that makes the world spin on its access a wee bit easier and you played a part in that. Thank you!!

Whether you are a leader, a parent, a co worker or a lover-this skill will make you a relational super hero.

Give it a try – listen to understand and see what happens.

Leona deVinne