I stink at listening. Seriously…I’m bad at it. USUALLY, when someone introduces themselves to me, I’ve forgotten their name 2 seconds later…I’m not exaggerating. I wrote a couple months ago about how I’ve been trying to work at listening when I’m BUSY, but there is so much more to this issue to work on.
I’ve recently realized how my poor listening skills can really hurt my relationship with my wife. For us to have a great relationship, we need to be able to communicate. But, for communication to work, there needs to be good talking AND listening from both parties. If I don’t give her attention when she speaks, and if I don’t attempt to really understand what she’s trying to say, then I am telling her that I don’t really care about what she wants to communicate.
Recently, I started reading a book called The Lost Art Of Listening. It has been so good for me to help identify areas I need to work on. In addition to listening when I’m busy, I’ve been working on the following areas. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
1. Zoning out: Sometimes I start off so great. Someone is talking…I’m listening…everything is perfect! But then, I think about something from work…or a tv show I watched…or dinner. And then, I realize that I have no idea what was just said over the last minute! Does this happen to anyone else?! And then the worst happens…”so what do you think?” Oh man…I don’t even know what the question was! Forget about being embarrassed by being caught not paying attention, the real shame is that I missed a chance to learn something they wanted to share with me.
2. Thinking about what I want to say next: I’m guilty of this WAY too much. It seems like a practical thing to do in order to keep a conversation going smoothly…am I right, or am I right? But, I find that usually when I’m thinking about this, I COMPLETELY miss the rest of what they’re trying to share. I’ve been trying to stay present more. I know that If I lose my train of thought…that’s ok. A lull in the conversation is not the ultimate doom that I always though it was…it’s ok. It’s much better to hear what they’re saying and to go from there.
3. Trying to solve the problem rather than listen: Yeah this is like EVERY DAY! I don’t know why it is, but if there is a problem, my reaction is ALWAYS to give advice to fix it. After 12 years of marriage, I realize that Julia doesn’t want me to solve her problems, she wants me to listen and understand. I still don’t quite get it…but I’ve learned to accept it.
4. Hearing words, but not the meaning behind them: If Julia and I both hear someone say something, it’s very common for us to come away with 2 totally different perspectives on what they just said. (Spoiler alert…she’s usually right) Julia has an uncanny ability to understand people in ways I just don’t. So, given my lack of intuition, I find that I often hear things Julia says to me, but make wrong assumptions about what she’s trying to communicate. I’ve been trying to use the phrase, “…so what I hear you saying is…”. This is very helpful in summarizing what I THINK she’s saying. This gives her the chance to either correct me if I didn’t connect with her meaning…or it allows her to go deeper in sharing more.
5. Doing other things while listening: I like being productive. If I’m having a conversation with someone that is not very deep, chance are I’m trying to do something else during it, like doing something on the computer, or putting away dishes, or something. It’s not that I’m in the middle of something, it’s just that talking takes time, and then I think of all the other things I could be doing with that time! The problem is that doing this shows the other person that I’m not THAT interested in what they’re saying. This could be ok if I’m talking about a tv show, or what happened at work that day. But, if I’m talking about something important, it doesn’t go over well. In situations like this, I’ve been trying to listen with my body. By this I mean, facing my body to them, not doing anything else, and making eye contact.
None of these things come naturally to me, so it has been quite a challenge. But, I have to tell you that just thinking about them has made practicing listening SO much easier, and has really changed my actions A LOT. As a result, I’ve found a MUCH better connection to Julia! It’s amazing how good communication can grow a relationship!
My advice to you:
If you struggle with listening as I do, I encourage you to think if any of these points I made sound familiar to you. If they do, start trying to make small changes in how you communicate with your wife or anyone you talk with. If you enjoy reading, I encourage you to check out The Lost Art of Listening.