“The first duty of love is to listen.” – Paul Tillich
In the movie, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Hector – a bored London psychiatrist – travels the world looking for the meaning of happiness. Along the way, he scribbles and sketches the key points he discovers in his nifty travel diary.
While flying to Africa, he lovingly assists a fellow passenger whose brain is about to explode due to the impact of the high altitude pressure on her medical condition. Hector directs the pilot to fly at a lower elevation, relieves her pain by applying a cold compress to her head, and listens to her story.
When Hector questions the effectiveness of his help, she says, “Listening is loving.”
Isn’t that the truth?
We all need to be seen, to be heard, and to feel connected. This need for a healthy level of attention isn’t just an indulgence. When this need goes unmet as an infant or child due to poor attachment with a parent or parental figure, we may never be quite right as adults.
For example, we may feel compelled to seek out people whom we think will fulfill our unmet needs, or we may become stoic and withdrawn. So we end up living in drama or not living at all with an activated nervous system in either case.
Unfortunately, listening – really listening with one’s full attention – isn’t very popular these days because we’re all so busy. I may be thinking of 1200 other things, while I’m trying to catch what you’re saying before I fly off to my next meeting or task. Or I may feel so tired from overdrive that I just zonk out while you’re speaking.
With the advent of social media, we squeeze our communications into 140 words on some platforms or keep them as short as possible when texting. Do young people actually talk to each other anymore? Not so often in texting dominated cultures.
Naturally, as the ability to listen diminishes, you’ll come upon communication challenges in your relationships. Here are a few and how you can work with them.
People Who Don’t Listen
How should you respond to people who don’t listen to you? It really depends on the circumstances.
If this is someone close to you, you’ll want to invest in improving your two-way communication. You could explore Non-Violent Communication (NVC, also called Compassionate Communication), which helps you understand your feelings and needs and how to communicate them effectively. Courses are offered all over the world.
Or, you could practice active listening – repeating what you’ve heard to the person – as a way to model the listening style you would like to experience yourself.
Women often complain that their male partners don’t listen to them. This may be due to the fact that female and male brains develop differently and it’s believed that male brains have less area for word use and production. Read Why Men Don’t Listen for some tips on how to communicate effectively with a male partner if this is one of your challenges.
If this is a work situation, it might also behoove you to learn the best way to communicate your request so you’ll be heard.
Now, if this person isn’t pivotal to your life, there’s no need to stick around, is there? Why not choose friends who have developed the skill of listening instead?
Whatever the situation, expressing blame, complaining, or attacking another person rarely brings a positive outcome. It usually makes the other person angry or defensive.
It’s difficult to change other people, but we know for certain we can change ourselves. So bone up on your own communication skills to enhance your chances of a positive response when you request to be heard, take a communication class with your partner or consider counseling, or start to hang out with different people.
People Who Talk Too Much
What about people who constantly talk? You may feel their words have little substance and notice there’s no actual interaction with you. That can leave you feeling invisible, irritated, or desperate to depart. How do you disentangle yourself?
I haven’t perfected the art of saying no, which I think applies in this situation, but I’m much better than before. One skillful means I’ve used is to write a script for myself for situations in which I find it difficult to say no. Why not write a few scripts for yourself and use them when you feel stuck with someone who chatters endlessly? For example,
- “I’m so sorry, but I need to leave now.”
- “I’m so sorry, but I need to leave to check on my child.”
- “I’m not feeling well. I’m going to go rest.”
- “I need a break. Thanks very much. I’m going to take some personal time now.”
You get the idea, I’m sure. Write a script that applies to your situation and practice using it. As you feel more comfortable taking leave of a chatterer, it will get easier and easier.
You’re not alone, of course. It’s tricky to wiggle out of situations like this. But it might be interesting to reflect on why you find it difficult to escape. Is there some early childhood programming that demands you stay trapped in a situation like this? Think about it. You might have a small “aha” that helps you remove yourself more easily in the future.
At the same time, you might reflect upon what compels someone to talk so much. It could be a deep wound from childhood or a desperate need to be heard. So another approach is to activate your patience and your compassion. If you’re fully present and responsive, maybe the other person’s need to talk endlessly will begin to dissolve.
Do You Listen to Yourself?
It can be tricky to be heard amidst the constant buzz in this modern world. If you find your buttons are especially pushed when you feel people aren’t listening to you, you might consider the art of listening to yourself.
Most of us are so busy that we don’t carve out quiet time to listen to ourselves. There’s an inner knowing always present within you. This inner wisdom almost always has an insight to help you answer questions, move through challenges, and take the next step. But to hear the answers, you need to make the space to listen with a quiet mind and heart.
This inner knowing is inextricably mixed with love. Take a moment to feel the love you’re giving to yourself by listening to your inner voice, intuition, and emotional intelligence. And know, that any time you wish, you can take a moment and shower yourself with love. This is how you can feel complete in yourself.
When you feel this wholeness, it’s easier to be around people who don’t listen or those who seem to talk too much. You’ll be able to kindly set your boundaries, exercise patience, or open your heart, whatever is the appropriate action for a particular circumstance.
Practice the art of listening, really being present to yourself and others. You might be surprised to discover anew the power listening has to create receptivity, connection, and transformation in your relationships. When you listen to others, you’re more like to be heard by them. And, if not, once you feel whole, it won’t be so troublesome.
What are you thoughts on listening? Do you feel people listen less in these modern times? I would love to hear in the comments.
About the Author of this Post:
Sandra Pawula is a writer, mindfulness guide, and peace-loving introvert.
She writes about creating a life of joy, confidence, and ease on her blog, Always Well Within.
She also guides people in the art of self-mastery through her Joyful Wisdom Letter and Circle.
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With Immense Love & Gratitude,
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