Note from Elaine: Yesterday, guest blogger and birthmother Pat Goehe, explained how two people can seem to be communicating but are really “talking past each other.” In the second installment of her two-part post, she explains “in depth” listening and tells how we can be the empathetic listeners that so many of us need. What does this have to do with adoption? A lot! If we adoptees can learn to really listen, we can also learn to let the past be past and live within the confines of each day.
Finally, we have in depth listening. This is where the people involved follow many of the things Elaine said in an earlier post on the topic. While no one can do this type of listening in every interaction he or she has, there are times when it would not be beneficial. For example, classes where one really needs to get the information to pass the class. Another would be “on the job” where one is getting trained or new information for a project. And if one tried to engage in depth listening in every interaction, the emotional involvement would simply be too much. It is in our most significant relationships we need to develop the in depth listening type.
Looking at the “listening process” there are several concepts that can and do affect the outcome. In my opinion the first is “noise”. There is physical noise like being ill, having a hangover (My students always loved that one!), allergies in certain seasons. Also being in a room that is too hot, stuffy, too cold, in a restaurant where there is so much talk it is difficult to converse with your dining companions; these are all examples of this type of noise. But often it is the “interior” noise that creates the biggest problem. Examples of this could be: You have a major paper due in two days and you haven’t started it yet ; someone in your family is having surgery or getting a diagnosis on some condition but you are at work and have to fulfill those duties; you are already behind in two house payments and have no idea what you’re going to do; your friend told you your husband is having an affair; you have been contemplating divorce for months but can’t make a decision; you’re concerned your parent has Alzheimer’s Disease. So many more examples. I know you can fill in many of your own. The point being, these types of “noise” most certainly interfere with listening even when you really want to listen.
The next concept from the process is “interpretation”. Actually noise is a part of this as well, but what it means is how you take in what has been said. A person I know visited me recently. Realizing it is best to stay away from political topics, and yet he thrives on them, I tried to comment on a recent news story. I thought surely it would be safe. But, before I could do anything more than identifying the story, he was in to “They set him up. They’re just out to get him like they do everything.” As I write this the Supreme Court just ruled on the health care program and the same sex marriage issue. I’m sure you have seen how that has evolved into major conflicts. This leads me into my favorite image which I usually post for students to explain this entire concept of communicating. It is the M.C. Escher print called “Bond of Union”. Basically there are two heads with ribbons connecting at some places and no connection with others. Both are also surrounded by little balls in the air. To me this is the best visual I have found which illustrates the various ideas I have presented in this blog. Each of us carries
inside our head all the experiences we have had in life. Remember that just because you came from the same family, your experiences can be different … the first child, the middle one etc. And while someone you are communicating with may have had their Mother die and you did too, it still is different. So in those relationships we really care about, it is necessary to “depth listen” to make the connections. It’s at times like this we often want to “fix the problem for the person”. We can only fix ourselves! But, we can be empathic, caring, depth listeners which so many of us need! To do this we must follow Elaine’s advice in the earlier piece. Listening/watching for the nonverbal aspects is SO IMPORTANT! There are subtle instances, faces getting red, looking away when discussing key aspects of a situation, the eyes tell us a lot. You can see I could write a whole blog on nonverbal communication, and yes, I taught semester courses in that too!
I always gave my students assignments on listening. One would be to observe others. Restaurants are great places to do this. I want them to watch for “dialogue of the deaf”, the argument type, and in depth listening. I also have them to commit to depth listening with a significant other. They come back reporting silly things having discovered Tournier knew what he was talking about. On the deep listening with a significant other, 99% of students reported that “other” would say, “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?” “Are you sick?”. That suggests in a relationship that is very important in our life, there is not much “depth listening” happening.
I challenge each of you to do those assignments. We know for our sanity, we each must have at least one significant person in our lives who listens to us and we listen to them. Who is your person?