Your lips keep flapping...
How many times have we all said “But I said that, and you ignored me! Now he/she/they/TV talkshow host says the exact same thing and you’re convinced?” Why is it that we have a hard time listening when people closest to us say important things?
1.Familiarity breeds contempt: Our kids behave better for strangers than they do for us. When we are too comfortable with the people around us, it’s far too easy to treat their words casually, and to ignore the importance of their concerns or thoughts.
2. Fewer words carry more weight: When you hear things all day, every day, from the people around you, those important words can simply get lost in the mix.
3. Reading in meaning: When you talk to a stranger, or listen to a person on television, you aren’t as prone to identify hidden meanings and undercurrents, as compared to listening to a loved one or a close coworker. When someone close to us talks, their current words are interpreted in the context of all our past experiences. So, it’s natural for us to draw connections between their current thoughts, and what happened last week: “You’re just bringing this up so you can say ‘I told you so’ about what happened at the grocery store!”
4. Do as I say, not as I do: When your doctor tells you to stop drinking or smoking, you listen. But what if you knew that the doctor had a DWI the weekend before? Would that make you less likely to acknowledge the wisdom in their words? When someone close to you tells you not to do something, that you know they do themselves, many of us simply discount their words as hypocrisy.
5. But it’s complicated!: When we talk to strangers about problems, many of us cut to the chase, and get right to the heart of the matter. When talkshow psychologists and advice columnists respond to questions, they’re responding to little snippets of people’s lives, and it’s easier for them to ignore those pesky distractions. But when we share problems with people close to us, are we guilty of overfocusing on the big picture, extraneous details, and clouding the issue? When that happens, it can be difficult to listen to, or give, good advice, because it doesn’t address all the complicated little details.
6. Confirmation bias: “Look, could you just say what I want to hear? THEN I will listen to you.” Sometimes, we go “shopping” and hunting for the things we want to hear, for the advice we think we need. When we think we’re ready to tell that boss to go to hell, we go to that feisty friend who walked out of their last job after cussing out their boss. Think you want to break up with your partner? Why wouldn’t you go to that friend or figure who tells you to “dump them already.”
7. I’m really just not ready to listen: Those people close to us might be sharing important information and alternative viewpoints, when we are still worked up, our blood is still boiling, and it’s just not the right time to talk. Their words might fall on deaf ears, just because it’s too soon for us to easily hear them.
We all need assistance to listen
What to do? Well, if you’re pissed off right now, feel like your partner is ignoring what you say, nobody listens to you, and you think I’m an arrogant SOB anyway, then you aren’t listening to a word I say. I appreciate you taking a look at my article though!
If you ARE ready to acknowledge that the above reasons make sense, and that sometimes you don’t hear, or get heard, and it might not actually be personal, then here you go:
• When things are important to say, it’s equally important to create a “listening environment.” This isn’t a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood thing, it’s about creating a quiet, focused, distraction-free place where you can let those words in.
• This listening environment is just as much internal as it is external. If you are still pissed off and upset, you need to acknowledge that, and say, “I’m not in a place to listen right now.”
• If there are things you can’t hear, or don’t want to hear, YOU need to own up to that. “I’m not in a place where /I can hear criticism on this right now. I’ve worked for hours on it, and if you point out a typo, I think I will just start crying…”
Well - look at that. Listen and ye shall be heard.
• If you want to be heard – you need to start listening. If you think that people don’t listen to you, then your first response needs to be to listen. The main reason people don’t listen, is that they think that others just don’t understand. If you want to be heard, if you want your words to matter, if you want to help the people around you, then start by closing your mouth, opening your ears, and listening until you do understand. When they, and you, are confident that you do understand what’s happening, and what the concerns are? That’s when your pithy wisdom and questions can best make a difference.
You can follow David Ley on Twitter, @DrDavidLey