Honest I wasn’t eavesdropping, they were right next to me and neither person was trying to be quiet.
It did strike me though as far too typical of people pretending to have a conversation, then getting frustrated at the outcome.
Wife: You’re not listening to me!
Husband: Yes I do. (yes this was his answer..I didn’ t mess up the typing)
Wife: Ok, what did I just tell you?
Husband: Um, something about the kids and school? (I heard her actually, it was about the car not working right when she picked the kids up at school)
Wife: Oh you NEVER listen!
Now I’m sure we’ve all had conversations like this before but what we miss is the fact that very few of us really take the time to truly listen. A conversation takes two people who are engaged with each other. It also means being thoughtful of the others readiness to be listened to and to listen. Now being an observer I can tell you the husband really wasn’t listening, he was kind of trying but something was happening on the big screen in the football game that was on. Having grown up with a Dad who loves sports, even I know better than to bother trying to have a real conversation during the game. That is what commercials are for.
What can we learn from this? Two things.
First, this wife was not being fair to herself or her husband by trying to get him to listen when he clearly had his attention focussed elsewhere.
Second the husband has got to know this isn’t a good time and he either needs to ask his wife to pause for a moment or turn away from the television. Neither one of these people were really ready to have a conversation in a thoughtful way.
Being ready to listen is super important and so is taking into consideration the other persons readiness. Really there is no point in getting angry at someone for not listening when you can plainly see that they are not present or ready to listen. My grandmother used to call this ‘looking for trouble’. We have responsibilities to the person we are talking to. Also,the husband shouldn’t have pretended to listen; he really should have said “I’m sorry, this is just got my attention, give me a minute and I will listen” and then proceeded to do so. Honesty trumps faking it any day.
I see this when parents talk to kids too. They give them instructions when they are playing with their toys or watching tv and then wonder why they don’t get moving. The child isn’t really engaged in the conversation. Parents need to stop their child, get down on their level and speak clearly. Having the child repeat what is said helps as well. You need to get them ready to listen before you start talking.
What do you do when your partner, co-worker or boss isn’t listening? First, ensure they are ready to listen. Ask for their attention, if they seem busy say so and ask when would be a good time. Model the behaviour you want to see. If someone is talking to you, stop what you are doing or ask them to wait a moment, then give them your full attention. If you can’t do so, be honest about it and let them know when you can give them the attention they deserve.
Do you know what is the one thing I hear most often from new coaching clients? They are so thankful to finally feel listened too. Really, a few have almost been brought to tears and many get all gushy about it. Consciously listening to someone will let them know they are important and you care. It actually can take some practice to learn how to listen well and be truly present for the conversation but it also is something worth doing to improve our relationships.