If you want the opposite sex to speak to you, I believe the first thing you have to learn – and this is a tough one – is to
LISTEN (or HEAR)
(to give attention to someone on order to hear him or her)
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
― Ralph G. Nichols
It sounds so easy but in fact it is one of the hardest things to do. And often, even if we do believe we are listening it does not necessarily mean we are actually hearing what the other person is saying.
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G. K. Chesterton
Very often we are so caught up in our own thoughts that we perhaps even start to listen but immediately begin to interpret what we believe the other is telling us. Truly listening and hearing is an art in itself that can be mastered with practice – unless you are one of the lucky ones to whom it comes naturally.
How often have you heard this one sentence from couples around you or even from your own partner?
You NEVER listen to me… I believe this is one of the most common complaints. But why is it so difficult to actively listen and hear the other? Well, I believe there are many reasons for that and I would like to elaborate just a little on what I find are the more common ones – I apologise here already for a very incomplete list and I am sure you can think of many other reasons as well but bear with me.
- We think faster than we talk – In our heads the things we want to say and have to say often come so easily to us and are crystal clear but when we speak we tend to skip (important) bits of what we want to get across to the other person because they are so obvious and clear to us. What we forget is that others do not have an insight into our thoughts (at least as far as I know). We do not take into account, that the information we want to communicate is most likely new to the person we are talking to. So bear in mind that this person is not the owner of a functional crystal ball and most likely not a mind reader. So try and be precise and give the listener a chance to understand. And the advice the one listening… Hear what is being said to the end and try not to draw conclusions too quickly. In doubt, just ask if you have understood correctly to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
- Too much stimulation all around – When we listen to others there are so many distractions all around us that speak to all of our senses. We see things around us, we smell things around us, we hear things around is and we feel things around us. All of these attract our attention and take it away from the person we are trying to hear. This happens unconsciously as our mind wanders a lot. Someone is talking to us, we smell something wonderful – let’s say coffee – and we start thinking that we will have the great espresso in our favourite place later on, missing a part of what is being said.
- This results in a shortened attention span – Due to all the distractions we are exposed to every day, be it mobile phones, media, sounds, smells, visual distractions etc., our attention span has become rather short. Depending on the conversation, our mind starts to wander quickly. So if a conversation is really important, if you really want to be heard, it is recommended to look for a place with a quiet and relaxed atmosphere and as few distractions as possible to at least increase the attention to what is being said.
- Stress and fatigue – These two factors make listening to someone and hearing them very challenging. When you are tired or stressed, the last thing you need is an exhausting and important conversation. However, if you try to push through it, the result can be devastating. The tired and stressed interlocutor is likely to react with impatience rather than listening with understanding. Here it is important to hear that the timing is very unfortunate for the tired and stressed partner and ideally agree on another time for this conversation. Of course, this is frustrating when something important is burning under your nails, but you can simply look inside yourself again to see if it is really that urgent.
- We are consumed by our own thoughts – When our head is full of our own thoughts and worries, it is incredibly difficult to actively listen to another. We are similarly preoccupied with our inner distractions as we are with the outer distractions and stimulations. In these cases, when your partner needs a serious conversation and needs lo be heard, you should try to be honest and possibly postpone this conversation until a better time. Okay, of course it is important not to put off these things in order to avoid a possibly unpleasant conversation. This will lead to serious problems in a relationship sooner or later. Under certain circumstances it helps to formulate your thoughts first and to let the partner in on them, so that he or she also gets an understanding of what is going on – immensely helpful!
- We are preoccupied with other issues – This is similar to the last point – being preoccupied with one’s own thoughts. The difference here, however, is that it is not only the thoughts that distract from active listening, but tangible issues and worries. Similar to point 5, it would make sense to communicate these openly with the other person – as far as possible – in order to at least let him of her understand why listening is so difficult at this time. But again, this should not be used as a lame excuse. And even if it is not always possible to communicate the reasons why listening is so difficult or even impossible, it is still important to make the partner understand why it is not convenient. And here it is again, my favourite statement – understanding comes from understanding!
- When speaking about problems our defences go up and we block things out – Now this one is really tricky. We all have what I love to call “selective hearing”. When we talk to our partner about something serious, about a problem then he or she can quickly become defensive which results in not listening, definitely not hearing the message and it can happen that the partner goes into defence mode without knowing exactly what is going on. This can alone happen by such sweeping statements as, “you NEVER listen to me”, or “you are ALWAYS late”. It is these accusations and condemnations that can make the other person angry and aggressive. It is difficult to find another approach to get the message across that the other person will hear you and possibly accept what you have said.
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway
It is often not even what is said but how it is said – the tone makes all the difference.
So especially when talking to your partner it is not only about what message is delivered but also HOW!
If your tone is angry, aggressive or even resentful you will most likely get the same tone (or worse) back. I know that being calm and thoughtful can be, let’s call it trying. When we are upset about something we all have our very own way to make ourselves heard – but unfortunately we often achieve exactly the opposite of what we intended.
We are all not perfect and struggle in one way or another when we communicate with others, especially the one we care about. And even if you are sometimes, when you listen, quicker and know or anticipate what is coming, just try listening to the end anyway and you may even be in for the pleasant surprise that your partner really enjoys talking to you and you learn to enjoy listening and hearing, having the opportunity to get to know this person better.
So when listening to your partner, focus on him or her because here is your opportunity to actually find out what makes this person tick. And as much as we love to talk about ourselves, if we are not interested in what is being said or want to learn more about your partner, then why even bother? Let’s face it, most of us do like to talk about ourselves and share our experiences with others – men and women alike.
If there is something in a conversation you don’t understand, don’t be shy to ask. You will look more foolish pretending to know what is being said in the end anyway.
And if you find this person or what she or he has to say dead boring, than chances are rather high that it is not your happily ever after…
“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”
― William Hazlitt
TO BE CONTINUED…
But or course I will not end without a song…