Papa can you hear me? It is such a poignant moment in Yentl when Babs, with mullet and lackluster makeup, sings the ‘Daddy you don’t get me’ song. It’s the tragedy of most relationships when communication breaks down. We have discussed how to communicate here before, how to say things that resonate and how to use appropriate language but the breakdown can happen on either side. What do we mean? Are you listening?
Lee says: I am a great talker. As a therapist, I have had to learn to get my point across by any means necessary. I watch the client for cues that they understand me and if they seem a little confused, I explain myself again. I also use stories to get my point across. However, there is very little I can do as communicator if the listener is unwilling or unable to understand what I’m saying.
We often neglect the listener in our discussions of effective communication. Since their role is considered passive, we assume that there isn’t much to their job in the dyad. We assume that standing there or sitting there with ears working is all that is necessary to complete the communication cycle. Boy, are we wrong!
Active listening is defined as listening for meaning. When you are actively listening, you are working at understanding, evaluating and interpreting what you see and hear. Active listening takes into account not only the words but the ‘music behind them’. It seeks out the meta-messages, the body language and also compares it with past comments and dialogues. It could be said that being an active listener is even harder than speaking since there are so many more conscious components to this side of communication and the speaker is virtually operating from a sub-conscious and un-conscious state.
Active listening messes up any concept of multi-tasking since it effectually needs every part of your body to accomplish the task. Not only are you operating nearly all of your senses, any form of distraction can ruin the communication. Pesky things such as anger and humiliation can derail active listening. In all cases, taking things personally makes it impossible to participate in communication in general. In other words, when we filter everything said to us through our issues then we will never truly be able to hear what is being said to us.
Most miscommunication comes from an inability to separate what is said from what is heard. Most communication issues come from people unable to hear what is being said when most of us believe it’s the other way around. It’s easier to blame the communicator than the listener since the latter’s process is all internal. Plus, our interpretations will run through our filters as well and we would never ultimately blame our own poor listening habits.
So here is an example of how this works: 22 years ago, Paul and I were engaged. We were driving home one evening and I was off on some rant about how showing emotions was essential. Paul stated ‘I don’t cry. Crying for me would be something I would do if I was going to die.’ Paul then explained that this is why he loved the song ‘Don’t cry out loud’ by Melissa Manchester. Please reserve all judgments on my husband since I have plenty myself.
I found this explanation of unwillingness to tear up and song choice as ridiculous as you did when you read it. I proceeded to start to rant about emotional honesty and how I could never trust someone who couldn’t express themselves fully. Paul, for reasons I could not understand, began to cry. After asking him what happened he said ‘you’re breaking up with me’. I, of course, must warn all readers that unbeknownst to me, I was suffering from raging PMS. I was all ‘I’m not breaking up with you!’ and he was all ‘you said you couldn’t trust someone who…’ and then I was all ‘no, I love you’ and he was all ‘I love you too’ and I was all ‘Melissa Manchester?’ Long story short, the ramblings of a woman under hormonal influence filtered through a guy with low self esteem and a penchant for sappy awful music is a recipe for a great story. In closing, sorry for the crazy PMS, honey. Oh, and, that song SUCKS!
Paul says: What? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.