When it’s his turn to be a jerk, he blocks out what I’m saying, or at least files the info in his subconscious long enough to percolate my ideas into “his” ideas later. Grrr.
When it’s my turn to be a jerk, I “yeah, yeah, yeah” him so he’ll stop talking. Later, I’ll realize I don’t have a key piece of information and blow my cover by asking him to repeat. Whoops.
Over the years we’ve come to realize there are some surprising but logical reasons why we fail to listen. When we recognize what’s going on, we can modify our behavior to get the best result. It’s not a 100% cure, but it has improved our experience dramatically. Your mileage may vary.
Are you still with me? Good. Let’s get started.
Just because you’re ready to talk doesn’t mean your partner is ready to listen. Most discussions don’t have to take place immediately, and by picking your time, you’ll increase the odds of an attentive audience.
Warren hates to discuss big topics late in the day when his mental energy is low. I hate to be interrupted from what I’m doing for a conversation that could wait until I’m done.
Once we realized these and other timing problems, we looked for better opportunities or simply told each other we had something to discuss when they were ready. When one of us does commit a bad timing move, the other is quick to point out it’s not ideal in the moment and postpone the conversation for a better time.
Do you know your mate’s best and worst times for having a discussion?
I like a holistic conversation, complete with tangents and details. I want the whole picture. Warren, on the other hand, wants to talk about one thing and only one thing, and he gets frustrated when I veer off topic.
We call it walking into a gym vs. walking into a narrow hallway.
Professional speakers will tell you to know your audience before you craft your message, and this holds true in personal discussions as well. What is the best way to have the conversation? What is the absolute worst way? When you know this, you have an exponentially better chance of keeping your partner interested in what you’re saying.
By using the gym vs. hallway reference, we’re easily able to address our style differences in the moment and adjust.
Are you complicating the delivery of your message by not knowing how your mate best receives information? (Hint: if you’re nagging, whining, or yelling, you’re using the wrong delivery.)
We’re lucky that we’re the only first-world couple on the planet who doesn’t own a cell phone, so we don’t have a reason to ignore each other when we’re out in public. But we do have the same problem with our laptops or when reading Kindle/iPad. Half-listening is a guarantee when a device is open, and we’re both guilty of it.
What works for us is shutting the lid on the laptop when agreeing to start a conversation. (“You busy? I want to tell you something.”) If we don’t, it’s too easy to look over to Facebook, the news, or cute cat videos while the other person is talking. We’re both guilty of this.
If one of us neglects to close the laptop or shut off the iPad/Kindle, the other one has to ask again if they want to have the conversation or keep doing what they’re doing. For us, there’s no other answer than turning it off.
Are you trying to compete with phones, laptops, iPods, or televisions when you speak? If so, your only hope is a power outage or a low battery.
This one is so obvious we can’t believe we missed it for so long. Sometimes we’re simply not aware that we need to be paying close attention and how we need to be paying attention. A simple request solves this problem.
I need to talk out a problem. Can you listen and give me some advice after dinner?
I’m not looking for advice, but I could definitely use a sympathetic ear. Do you have some time?
When we began asking for what we needed, we got it. And we were able to give each other what we needed instead of what we thought was needed. Small distinction, big difference.
Does your partner know you need him or her to listen, or are you just diving right in and assuming they understand how important this to you? Don’t make your partner guess which moments are the most important.
We’ve each been guilty of over-sharing and not getting to the point. I get rambly when I’m thinking about the possibilities with a situation, and Warren gets verbose when he’s working out a problem. Even though we both have a tendency to go on, it drives us crazy when the other one does it.
What we’ve learned is that we have to give our big point up front so it doesn’t get lost in the follow-up chat (AKA, when the other one stops listening). That way if we do keep talking and obscuring the subject, we’ve at least gotten it out there so the other person remembers it.
Are you losing the point to your conversation in the details? Make it easy for your partner to follow.
Now That You’ve Got Each Other’s Attention
A strange thing happened when we focused on how to be heard:
We became better listeners.
We turned all these techniques back on ourselves and discovered while we were complaining about not being listened to, we were doing very little listening.
It’s hard work being a righteous nag.
Our communication continues to improve as we fine-tune our listening skills. And as much as I thought it would be annoying to hear, “not right now” when I want to talk, it’s actually soothing. I know I’m on Warren’s radar, and he’s waiting for the best time to give me his full attention.
I can wait a while when that’s the reward.