Judge Thy Neighbor

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This judgmental, hurtful, rude way of responding is sure to win you the “Worst Listener of the Year” award.  The last thing someone needs to hear when they are opening up to you is your judgment of them.  Telling someone that what they feel doesn’t make sense or is stupid is an example of being judgmental.  Other examples are telling someone they shouldn’t feel what they feel or think; or one of the most shattering is “You don’t feel like that.”  This is a harsh response to the person sharing.  Have you experienced this from someone?  How did it make you feel?

If someone asks your opinion about what they are sharing it is fine then to give it.  However, that doesn’t require you to put them down or discount their feelings or thoughts.  If the person doesn’t ask for your opinion-don’t give it! When someone shares what they are feeling with you, try and remember that feelings are just feelings.  Feelings don’t always make sense.

It is also important to keep in mind that you don’t have to agree with the other person to be a good listener.  Good listening doesn’t require agreement.  It requires the sincere intent to understand the person from their point of view.  Perspective is everything. If he or she has a different perspective than you that doesn’t mean he or she is wrong. There is plenty of judgment in the world.  Please be careful not to perpetuate that trend.

A virtuous way to help you be less judgmental when you are listening to someone you don’t agree with or you don’t understand how they are feeling, is reflective listening.  As stated previously, this is when you confirm with the person that you have heard them correctly.  There is no judgment in this.  There is no opinion of yours shared.  It is simply hearing the other.

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Are You There?

 

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Listening in body only is when you are talking and the person seems physically attentive, yet it is as if they are looking through you, sort of like they are in a conscious coma.  The person is physically present but is mentally elsewhere.  Have you had this experience before?   Usually after you have talked a little with no response you might wonder or even ask, “Did you hear what I said?”  Often the person will say “No, I am sorry.  Can you repeat that?”  The person truly was not mentally present for the conversation.  While I imagine this has happened to all of us at one time or another, it is an issue if it keeps happening with the same person.

Often the person who is zoning out while you are talking is preoccupied with something.  Life is overwhelming at times.  If you know you are overwhelmed and not able to give someone your attention who is asking for it, just let them know.  You might say, “I know you are really stressed right now and I do want to hear about it, however, I am too upset right now to focus.  Can we meet for lunch?”  This type of response is respectful to both self and others.  Or it could be that you have trouble with keeping up with what the other person is saying so it is easier to zone out and just do the best you can to give the appearance of understanding what they are saying.

Reflective listening is a wonderful skill to help you stay with the person mentally.  Reflective listening is simply repeating back what you think you heard the person say.  This is a very caring act.  It shows you are intentionally trying to hear what the person wants to tell you.  It is important when you reflect back what you think you heard that you do so without adding your own twist to it.

Think of this as if you were looking in the mirror.  What you see is your reflection.  No additions or subtractions; just you. With this type of listening that is all you do.  Reflect what you think you heard.  For example, you might say, “So you received exceeds expectations in every area but one and for the third year in a row you didn’t get a promotion?”  If you are correct the person will usually say, “Yes, and…” on they will go with more detail.  If you didn’t get it quite right the person can correct you so you understand what they meant.   “So you got exceeds in almost every area and they still did nothing to honor that?”  The person might say, “Well they did give me a good bonus, but I have been waiting for this promotion.  I am so frustrated.”   It is a wonderful gift to interact with someone who is sincerely trying to hear you.

 

 

Look Me In The Eye!

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Have you ever been talking to someone and they seem to be looking everywhere but at you?  This is a surefire way to make someone feel like you don’t give a hoot about what they are saying.  This is more than frustrating, it is downright rude.  Have you been at dinner with your partner or friend, just the two of you, and while you’re trying to have a conversation he may be looking around or watching the TV? Do you have to get right into the line of sight of your partner or friend and ask “Are you listening to me?”  It is curious when the person actually becomes frustrated with you for asking this question. Needless to say, eye contact is very important to attentive listening.

I have talked to many people who find eye contact uncomfortable.  They have said it makes them very nervous.  They can acknowledge that the poor eye contact doesn’t go over well with people even though they tell me they are sincerely listening.  Are you one of these people?   Ask yourself what it is about looking at someone when they are speaking that makes you so nervous? Working on your insecurities in this area will greatly help your connections with others. Practice makes perfect and I am confident that as you practice maintaining good eye contact you will gradually become more relaxed with this skill.

Poor eye contact is one form of negative non-verbal communication.  Looking distracted physically is another form of poor non-verbal communication.  Things like having your body turned away from the person; legs and hands crossed in a closed position; head nodding or turning in a disapproving fashion; grunting etc.  Back when I was in my undergraduate studies I was taught that 90% of communication is non-verbal.  What is your non-verbal language telling the person?  Is it showing the person that you are paying attention and interested in what they are saying? Or is it suggesting that you are disinterested and bored?

Isn’t It All About Me?

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 “Yesterday at the mall I heard someone call my name and to my surprise it was a girlfriend from high school that I hadn’t talked to in twenty years.  I was so stunned that for a moment…”; “Oh I know – the same thing happened to me when I was at the airport and…”  And on the person goes and before you know it, you are listening to them.  Has this happened to you?  Switching the conversation on to you and making it about you is another bad listening trait. Sometimes the other persons sharing is woven into the conversation so creatively that afterwards you forget what your original thought was!  My hope is that you don’t have too many friends doing this too often.  This would make for very one-sided friendships.

This can be so frustrating.  Being that I have training in how to be a good listener, I find it somewhat amusing when someone does this to me.  I am hyper-sensitive to it and find it amazing when a person seems so oblivious to what just occurred and seems content to go on.  I typically entertain their interjections for a time and that is it.  I simply shut-down.  I keep future conversations superficial and tend not to spend too much time with them.  But not everyone picks up on these conversation table turners.  I have heard many people in my office talk about their supposed close friend who they feel they listen to more than talk to.  The person knows it is one sided, but allows it to go on.

If you have someone in your life that you value but you feel they talk more than listen, you can try to address this. You can express it verbally or in writing.  You might say something like, “I really enjoy when we do things together, however, I don’t often feel like you listen to what am I saying when I try and share what’s going on with me.”  If the person is able to hear you then there is potential for positive change in the relationship.

If you know you are someone who tends to do this I encourage you to ask yourself why and what.  Why do you so often shift things to yourself and what might be going on with you?  Do you think you might do this because you are nervous and don’t know what to say so you just start talking?  Are you overwhelmed and can’t help yourself?  Maybe this is your way of showing you are listening?  If you want to have mutually satisfying relationships it is important to gain more clarity about this tendency.

Is It Ever Okay To Interrupt?

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Interrupting all the time is sure to be one of the top traits of a bad listener. This one is very common and one I am guessing we are all guilty of from time to time.  Isn’t it frustrating when you are trying to share something and the person is constantly interrupting?  There are many reasons a person might interrupt you. Some interruptions are valid such as when you are seeking clarification, “Did you say you handed that in ten days ago?”   Interrupting for clarification a time or two can show you are really listening and wanting to make sure you heard the person correctly.  However, even this can be bothersome if the person constantly has to stop and clarify.  If you do this enough the person talking may decide to shut down or may tell you to let them finish their story before you to ask your questions.

However, many interruptions don’t originate from such good intentions.  Often a person interrupts because they are impatient with the story teller, wants to correct them, prefers to argue the point, or they may be so narcissistic that they can’t bear the focus to be on someone else. In working with couples I have witnessed one partner interrupting the other due to impatience. Each of us process information in our own unique way. The one becomes inpatient with the other because he or she isn’t making their point quick enough. Because the other doesn’t communicate as quickly and concisely as you doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong .It just means the person communicates in a more paced and measured way.

Immensely frustrating and even offensive is when you interrupt another because you don’t agree with them and want to get your two cents in before letting that person finish. Being respectful of different viewpoints is imperative for healthy relationships and shows strength of character in the listener.   Debating another’s view when the person is clearly not in need of or interested in a debate is also very rude and inconsiderate. And the “all-consumed with themselves” have little ability to stay present with the others frame of reference any substantial length of time.

If you struggle with interrupting others I encourage you to make a conscious effort to stop or reduce the frequency.  Certainly seeking clarification from time to time is important.  However, try remaining with the person’s story.  Listening is not about agreeing with the person, it’s about respecting their viewpoint.  Remember the person is sharing their perspective, not necessarily yours.  And that is ok!  Also, remain alert to let them finish a thought before you interject.  You can even count to three before you respond to be sure they are done with that part of their sharing. Decreasing interruptions is a good start to becoming a better listener.

Fun listening quote “Of course I’m listening, now what was that you said”?

 

How Green Is Your Grass?

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I assume you have heard the saying “The grass is always greener on the other side.” And this is a pit we can easily fall in when we assume from what we observe on the surface that the other situation is better than our own. Or that sort of envy that we wish we had this better relationship, better job, better…you name it.
Recently I saw a different quote which states “The grass is greener where you water it!” I loved it! This is so profound: “The grass is greener where you water it!” I just want to keep saying it over and over! And this is the real truth; no matter what something looks like on the outside the truth is it is always greener where we water it!
This can be applied to many situations. Today I am going to apply this truth to your significant love relationship. When you complain about your relationship with your partner, ask yourself this question “How well have I done nurturing this relationship? Instead of finding all the fault in your partner take a look in the mirror. For many it is easier to focus on what the other isn’t doing instead of looking at their own responsibility in the relationship.
This is something I see often with the couples who come to my office. I have a partner coming in to session in shock that their loved one wants out of the relationship. Usually this person reports he or she had no idea the other was so unhappy. When I listen to the story of this relationship I am thinking “How could you not know?” And these are very intelligent, smart individuals who right under their nose didn’t realize how dried up and under nurtured their own garden was.
Ask yourself, have you been more of the nurturer in your relationship or are you more of the taker? Another way to ask this question is: have you been more of the one over functioning or under functioning in your relationship? If believe you are the one who does more of the watering and watering and watering; nurturing, nurturing and nurturing with little return then maybe for you it is time to turn the spout off and sit back and start thinking about your own needs.
If you have been the one that has been taking and taking and taking, and when you’re honest with yourself have not been providing consistent nurturing to your relationship in the way your partner needs, you would do yourself and this relationship a great service if you would pause and genuinely take ownership of this truth. Not for a brief period of time but for the long-term.
There is almost no excuse today to not do this. The resources for men and women to learn how to be better people, better partners are overflowing. There are many books, CD’s, workshops and therapy available. There is really no excuse. So if you think the grass is greener in some other relationship ask yourself; look in the mirror and ask “Have I really done everything I can do to nurture my own garden?”
And if you know that you have been giving; that you have been over functioning, maybe this is a time of grief for you. I time to let go; a time for you to take a risk knowing that your partner may not step up to the plate.
And if you can own that you have not been actively nurturing your relationship are you willing to take a look in the mirror? Are you willing to get the help you need to learn how to nurture the relationship on a consistent basis? If you have allowed your garden to dry up too much it’s not reasonable to expect to give it a little taste of water and then just bloom and grow. The relationship has been imbalance. To mend this you will have to continually give and give before expecting too much in return. This is how it works. Most in the under functioning expect immediate returns on their giving. That just isn’t the case, nor should it be your expectation. You may not like this, but these are the facts.
I hope this message gives you hope. If this message rings true for you, I hope you will take responsibility for your role and make the needed changes. Everyone around you will be blessed from this action.

If You Would Just Stop Making Me So Angry!

blaming
There is a wonderful saying that I both love and hate which states, “No one can make me feel anything without my permission.” How often have you heard yourself saying, “He makes me so angry?” Or “She frustrates the crap out of me.” While this response is a naturally reactive one it leaves you in the one down position or the victim position. The above saying reminds me that only I am responsible for my feelings.

When someone does something that you then feel angry, it is better to reframe it correctly; such as “When he didn’t return my calls I felt very hurt.” Or, “I know what she is like and I let her get to me again.” Both of these statements put the ownership back on you! This gives you power to do something about it. It takes the power away from the other and leaves it with you. When you take responsibility for your reaction you then are in control of how you want to handle your response or feelings.

Putting the responsibility back on yourself is the primary way of feeling more in control of your life and the various situations life brings your way. I encourage you to pay attention to how you word your statements. Notice if they are more I statements or more blaming statements. Make the conscious choice to remove yourself from the one-down role to the role of empowerment and choice. It is only then that you can move forward in that situation or relationship in a productive fashion. You always have a choice! Choose responsible, mindful living! It is a much happier and productive existence.