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Communication is something we do all day every day. Chatting, listening, expressing ourselves, etc. But, too often, communication gets in the way of living happier. Communication involves showing up, being clear on what we want and need, expressing ourselves succinctly and clearly, and being able to listen – I MEAN REALLY LISTEN.
We could chat for days about Healthy Communication, but today I want to talk about one of my favorite parts of communication: Listening.
One thing I know for sure is the world would be a happier place if we could all just listen to each other. We are all craving to be heard, understood, and validated. Many times, when we think we are listening, we are engaged in what I call ‘pseudo listening,’ or listening lite. Listening lite is when we pretend to listen – you know when you are like yes, uh-huh, right, but you aren’t engaged with the person. Today I am sharing some of the more typical listening lite’s I have engaged in and experienced.
You look like you are listening, but in reality, you can’t be fully listening, because you are just plotting in your head what you will say next. You are trying to craft the perfect sentence and organize your argument just right, so you aren’t even hearing what the other person is saying. Preparing is very common if you are an Introvert because you need time to organize your thoughts in your head before you speak. However, organizing your thoughts shouldn’t come ahead of really being present for someone. They would rather have you listen than be ready with the perfect response.
When we are comparing ourselves to someone, we don’t listen. For example, your partner comes home from work and starts sharing about his exhausting day at work, and, in your mind, rather than listening to his day, you are thinking, “Are you kidding me?!?! I was out with the kids and then working and then running around – my day has been 10,000 times worse.” One upping doesn’t help anyone – it doesn’t help you feel more validated, and it certainly doesn’t help him feel more validated. When you engage in one-upping, it is important to look at what is driving that tendency. Frequently, when we are one upping, we are craving validation (from ourselves and others), and the best way to get validation is to give it. When we can fully show up for others and show them how amazing that feels, they are more likely to fully show up for us
This is a very common listening lite tactic. Quite honestly, it is one where we THINK we are listening and helping others feel heard. Relating occurs when someone tells you a story about their vacation, and, rather than LISTENING to their story, you immediately start thinking about your vacation. So you stop listening because you are lost in thoughts about your vacation, or you start sharing about your vacation before they can finish their story. Relating is a human tendency. It helps us feel connected, AND it prevents us from listening. So just pay attention to how often you ‘relate’ in your head. Make a mental note of the similarity, and focus back on the person sharing the story.
When we problem solve, we are listening only to solve the problem and not really ‘hold the space.’ This again is a common listening lite skill. We THINK we are helping by trying to solve the person’s problem, but really they just need us to listen. I admit this is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves, and I really do pride myself on not engaging in problem solving. But even I get stuck in this one from time to time. A few months ago, a friend of mine had called me to tell me that she was having panic attacks and was overwhelmed. I immediately knew how to solve the problem! I knew that she needed a mini vacation, she needed to stop doing everything for her family, she needed to take a break! So being the good friend I am, I started plotting exactly what she needed to do and started to tell her my ideas. Then I heard her voice shift, and I heard her tearing up over the phone. And I said, “I am sorry, we aren’t problem solving here, we are listening right?” and she said “Yes, I just need some support right now, I don’t need a solution.” I was busted! Even though I had the best intentions, what she truly needed was support. If you catch yourself jumping into problem solving mode, it’s ok to circle back around and ask for a Do-Over. We are all learning here… it’s better to catch yourself than not.
All of these listening lite tendencies can be stopped through awareness techniques. First, you have to notice that you engage in them. You might notice them the next day, then the next hour, and, gradually, you notice it at the moment.
I challenge you this week to notice how often you engage in these Listening Lite Behaviors. When you catch yourself, take some deep breaths and re-focus. True Listening is a gift.