I’m Not Listening!

Let’s talk about one of my favorite songs by Helen Reddy, again “I Can’t Hear You No More.” Grammatical error aside, this song was a great summary of what often happens between two people who are trying to communicate.

She sings to someone over and over again that she can’t hear him “no more.” It’s clear that she’s either frustrated with what he’s saying, or he’s been saying the same thing and now it’s falling on deaf ears. In many cases – with co-workers, with spouses, with family members – when we have too much experience and too much exposure, we find ourselves basically saying the same things over and over again. The irony is that we DO expect a different result, even though we know we aren’t going to get one. “I can’t hear you” means that I’ve heard you so many times that I have stopped listening to you.

Think about this experience. Has there ever been anyone in your life that just drones on and on about the same things, and you got used to knowing what’s coming next in every exchange? If you say, “It’s a beautiful day today,” this person always responds with a litany of the upcoming storms on the way. But, one day, you say the beautiful day line and the other person says, “Yes, what an amazing day. I’m happy to be alive.” Maybe they have had some life-changing experience or maybe someone pointed out to them what they always do, but in any event they change the response you’ve come to expect. What happens?

It stops you in your tracks. As you get ready to respond with your usual comment back, you stop for a minute. You are actually thrown off a little and have to consider what you want to say next. You hear them differently and you want to respond differently.

It doesn’t happen often, because we get into our communication dances with others and we’re usually pretty committed to the same back and forth, no matter what happens. But this experience shows us that we can shift the exchange. We can make a dedicated effort to step out of the dance and respond in a more genuine, less rote manner. When we do this, we give the other person the chance to really hear us. Instead of giving them what they expect, we give them a part of ourselves that they might not have experienced before.

The thing is that it takes work. We can’t hear most people because we’ve made assumptions about what they will say and we don’t pay enough attention to what’s really happening in the dynamic between the two of us. This is why many love relationships grow apart, or siblings just can’t get along no matter how old they get. I’m not really focused on you – I’m hearing what I’ve always heard and I’m not pushing myself to engage in a more proactive, less predictable manner.

For many people, moving out of the comfortable zone of knowing what’s next is very challenging. They might prefer to keep the status quo because it requires less effort, less energy on their part. For those of you reading this blog, you probably want to enhance and deepen your relationships. Putting the energy into truly listening, taking a new view of the same old person and refusing to respond in the exact same way you always have might give the other person you are engaging with a chance to see something new about you.

If you feel you aren’t being listened to, and the person you’d like to engage with “can’t hear you no more,” commit to putting the energy into a change in the regular approach. It means being a little unpredictable, but that’s often what it takes to make someone else sit up and take notice about what we have to say.