I admit, though I know it will age me, that I am a Helen Reddy fan. I still play her music and “I am Woman” is my ringtone. One of her songs, listed here as the title of my blog, keeps running around and around in my head. When we watch our interactions with others, and we watch people interacting with one another, how many times do we feel “I can’t hear you no more”? It’s as if people are talking but we are no longer listening to what they have to say.
Many times our differences in behavioral style contribute to this problem. If I am a fast-paced, fast-moving and fast-thinking person, someone who is slower, more methodical and more thoughtful is going to annoy me. Rather than tell them of my annoyance, I will likely just stop listening; I may put my attention on something else or I may just tune them out. Vice versa, if I am someone who needs time to think and process, and I am relating with someone who is pushing ideas at me quickly and furiously, I will need to mentally step back so that I can stop the seeming onslaught of words coming at me.
We aren’t often conscious that we are doing this – it’s our reaction to someone who is very different from us. When the behavioral styles don’t match, instead of using the energy to figure out how to match ourselves, we will just resist the other person.
Another reason we can’t hear others is that often times we are simply on overload: I am multi-tasking and paying little attention to what you might be saying. At any time we have information coming at us from email or voice mail, and over the computer or television. We are IM’ing and texting and generally expected to respond in a fairly immediate fashion. I was in someone’s office the other day and they were on a conference call, reading emails, preparing a paper they needed to present AND talking to me. But were they really talking to me? How could they possibly be focusing on what I was saying? Because I knew the person well we could joke about it, but it was a great caricature of how many of us operate these days. Slowing down and taking time to listen and focus on another person seems like a lost art.
The problem with our inability to hear one another is that we aren’t connecting with them. We aren’t given a chance to have a real understanding of the person who is underneath what’s being said. If we rush through our conversations, and we don’t pay attention to the emotional side of what’s being said, we really don’t give ourselves a chance to learn about that person, and what they are suffering from. I read an article about a young person who recently attempted suicide and they said, “It just didn’t seem like anyone was listening to me.” This is an extreme case, but many of us feel like we interact daily but we don’t really connect. Talking and connecting are two very different experiences.
On my way back from Houston, TX, this week I was sitting next to a lovely woman who was traveling back home to sell her house in Boston. She was talking to me about some trials and tribulations she had experienced. It occurred to me as I listened to her how tired I was feeling, and how much energy it consumed for me to stay focused on what she was saying. Her personal pain was clear and I felt it was important to seek connection, but it did require me to give from my own emotional reservoir.
I think this is what happens to us sometimes. To truly connect, to really listen requires tremendous energy: We must focus. We must assimilate and we must engage in active listening and reflective listening. Sometimes we just don’t want to be bothered.
This week, pick an interaction or two where you really want to invest your time and attention. See whether the richness of your connection and the feeling you get from true understanding form enough of a payoff that the next time you may be more likely to give more of yourself.