Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Truth; failure to listen

The other day I interacted with two different people. Let's call them Katie and Rudy. Both were strangers, and both were with me only for a short time on the same day (but at different times). When I met Katie, I noticed that she was open, chatty and friendly. We engaged in conversation for a good long while. She told me about her life, I told her about mine. We gave each other advice.

Later that day I met Rudy. Rudy was also a stranger, but I noticed right away that she was more distant than Katie. She avoided making eye contact, she answered my casual questions and then shut down, and pretty much did everything another person can do to end a conversation politely.

I had so much fun interacting with Katie that when I met Rudy I wanted the same kind of fun. I didn't know how to react to this different persona, so I pushed myself at her. I tried asking her questions, I tried starting up new topics, I tried telling her about myself in the hopes of drawing her in. Nothing seemed to work.

After Rudy walked away, I jumped to the conclusion that either she didn't like me (hey, it's possible) or just didn't want to connect. I tried to figure out what was wrong with her, "Maybe she was having a bad day." or "Maybe she was simply not feeling conversational." I was only thinking about what she was doing wrong. Etcetera.


For those of you who've read my blog before perhaps you see where this is going. I'm sure there was nothing wrong with Rudy, or if there was, that wasn't the issue at hand. The problem was me. I wasn't paying attention to Rudy at all; I wasn't empathizing with her. Katie made talking to so, so easy that when confronted with Rudy I forgot that I needed to do actual work. It takes effort to be empathetic; it rarely comes naturally. Instead of listening, I was caught in the trap of simply talking AT her. In hindsight I remember that people don't want to be talked AT. If they want to be talked AT they will go home and watch the news.

I find it so hard to remember sometimes how to keep the focus on empathy when interacting with people. It's been my experience so far that most people do want to connect, but they need a reason. They need to believe that they will be heard and that they will be listened to - and I wasn't listening.

It's so, so important to listen.

So I'm sorry Rudy and anyone else I may not have listened to enough. I'm going to keep trying harder to open my ears instead of my mouth.



Anonymous said...

Love this
Can imagine Katie & Rudy
Have met them both

Belle said...

I've been taking a class on reflective thinking and have come to realize I do that a lot. For example, in this case I wasn't listening to a person's body language when I started talking. I jumped in and started to educate her (I was at work), but guess what? She never gave me permission to educate her. I never asked if she cared to know about what I found. I think if I had allowed her the opportunity to ask some questions, by allowing longer pauses, I could have had her accept the treatment I was recommending. I did not give her long enough to process the information I was providing to her and she already had defensive body language. Reflective thinking has been a wonderful gift.

Janet said...

Thanks Anonymous!

Thank you, Belle! It sounds like reflective thinking has helped you to see ways to change how you interact with people, to make them better conversations. Am I following you correctly?

I love the idea of long pauses. Giving people the space to enter their own thoughts into the conversation, and not feeling the pressure to 'fill' the space.


kimmy said...

The Dine people have a valuable rule in their culture and language; they let the person finish speaking, and there is a LONG long (at least a full minute) pause before the other person speaks. they believe that interrupting - or even speaking before a full long silence has given them proof that the listener really is thinking about what they said - is akin to murder - you are stating that what they are saying, their very breathe, isn't valuable. I have a Dine friend, and it is always an adjustment when I first start speaking with him, the slow and long long pauses. But then I realize that it makes me so much more comfortable to know that what I say is important, and that they know how important they are to me. it does indeed help me to just sit and listen, and not panic about thinking what will I say, i will have time to think what will I say in the pause. thanks janet, this has given me a lot to think about!!

Anonymous said...

We all make mistakes. I have an obsession with trying to read people, so normally I'm focused on that and it helps me figure out how best to approach people. You were happy, being happy is no evil. Otherwise, I think, knowing you as I do, you would have sensed her discomfort early on.

Janet said...

Hi Kimmy - Thanks for sharing that story about your Dine friend and their culture. I wonder what it would be like to be heard like that - it sounds so peaceful. Since I read your post I've been thinking about it, and trying very hard to give people 'space' to reply in conversations.

Hi Megan -

Thanks. It's hard to admit errors sometimes, and hearing someone else say that makes me feel good.