Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
May 2016 - Volume 16, No. 5
Sorry to Interrupt, but I’m not Listening
Many of my readers and clients know I attribute almost magical powers to the phenomenon of human communication. It is a near universal healer for couples, families, enemies and friends. It is called the art of dialogue - two people talking to each other. The primary structure of such communication involves speaking and listening, and in such a manner assumes and increases respect for each other.
The Dialogue of the Deaf
However, what I often hear is a ‘discussion’ in which one or both parties are unresponsive to what the other is saying. It can be that each is so anxious to tell their story, or to counter the story of their partner, that they don’t listen. Don’t want to, or are incapable.
And one sure clue is that one or both will constantly interrupt each other.It’s as if he who speaks most, wins.
The Anatomy of Interruption
Here’s what happens:
When one speaks, the other picks up just a few minimal cues of what’s being said, then “goes inside” to prepare a response, frequently a rebuttal.Once one “goes inside,” all effective listening stops.The other may become aware of this, and in an attempt to be heard, may raise his or her voice or tone.
Then the argument can shift to whether or not a voice was ‘raised’ or not. It’s not uncommon then for one to complain about the raised voice, while the other denies it. Any original conversation is sufficiently sidelined so that the ‘new’ conversation is solely about the volume and tone of the other.
When this happens in my office, I may step in with some external data such as “Actually there was a shift in volume” or “The volume didn’t change much, but the tone of what you said did.”Often neither hears me either.Either way, any real conversation is virtually obliterated. The data is now all subjective, and blame can now run the show.It may be called conversation, but true listening is absent. We all know a “shouting match” doesn’t actually have to involve any increase in volume - independent of subjective experience. What is experienced is a tone or attitude that clearly means “not listening” or “you are wrong.” This is where the word “scolding” often fits.There is a verbal exchange of words, but no conversation. Again, the ‘dialogue of the deaf.’
As I’ve noted earlier, true conversation involves speaking and listening, and in such a manner that each has at least some respect for the other.
Conversation can involve risk. One source suggests that the secret of successful marital conversation is to always be willing to “give an inch.”I’m not always comfortable with the term compromise, because it often assumes losing something. However one classic military strategy is the willingness to lose a battle in order to win the war.
In healthy conversation, at least one party is willing to have enough respect for the other to continually invite cooperation, to maintain an openness to listen to the other.There are times when this is one-sided, and it takes a lot of patience - but that “give an inch” can have magical powers.
I know many client situations, where after weeks or even months of counseling and coaching, all at once I hear “we finally began to really talk” to each other.Really talking means true speaking and listening has begun to take place.
Every time you speak with another, be willing to broaden or even change your mind.
It can be difficult, and you’ll often feel afraid you’ll lose some vital advantage. But remember, a general who insists he must win each battle, is fated to lose the war. I’ve seen it many times.
Healthy conversation is meant to expand and enhance each party. Remember that. It’s an invitation to healing in our relationships. It also can have a divine element - it’s the essence of prayer.
It’s here we are most wonderfully human. I’ve heard that if angels could be jealous of us, this is one of those places.
May you each have great conversation in your life.Then,
Acknowledging your truth
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