Friday, December 18, 2015

The Gift Of Listening

I laughed so much about this little video clip when I first saw it. It's Not About the Nail beautifully illustrates the concept that most women want to be heard by their partner, but really don't need them to take over and solve the problem for them. Women often feel more heard and understood to have a partner do reflective or active listening and repeat back, in different words, what they are saying.

This is the concept behind John Gray's books about the differences between genders and communication style. He wrote the very popular book Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus in 1992. If men can be aware of this difference, they can check in and clarify with their partner whether they want to vent and get empathy, or whether they want solutions. In general, I recommend not offering solutions to people unless they ask you for them.

I've done some training for couples counselors that provides a listener's continuum, a spectrum of options that help people identify where they are in their own progress as a listener. Many people would rather have you keep it to yourself, others start to argue and defend their own point of view, or try to alleviate the tension they feel by trying to fix things. (In this video clip, it's when he wants to pull out the nail).

Better listeners give feedback about the feelings the other person is conveying, ask questions to deepen their understanding of you, remain calm, don't take things personally, and stay curious about the other person. When you respond with empathy and compassion, the other person naturally wants to open up more to you. When you start arguing and defending, or solving the other person's problem, you will notice that the other person shuts down.

Most people don't listen very well. Children notice that their parents don't listen, or multitask, or only notice if they act up. Many people stop talking but are busily preparing their rebuttal, making a grocery list or thinking of what else they have to do later that day. If every child and teen could have someone in their lives who really listened, deeply from the heart, we could create powerful positive change in our turbulent world.

To be truly listened to, and understood, feels wonderful. Truly slowing down to listen from the heart is one of the best presents you can give or receive. If we are sensitive to our role as a listener, we can give our partner, and our children, one of the best gifts we can offer in this busy, distracted world of ours. You could be that listener for one young person.

As the poet and author Mark Nepo writes in his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, "Listening is the closest we come to living forever. Close your eyes and inhale, slowly. Exhale slowly. Inhale slowly and realize that your life will unfold between the appointments you know of and the appointments you will discover along the way. Open your eyes and exhale slowly, saying yes as you begin."

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