“Why Aren’t You Listening to Me?” (Part 1 of 2)

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BY: SIMONE JENNIFER SMITH 

Have you ever taken in how hard it is to listen to someone? Let me paint a scenario for you? So, you come home from a bad day. You had a flat tire on the way to work. Your boss had some smart shit to say because you were late. You co-worker and job partner were away from work, which means you were left with the ALL the work to do. You get a call from school; your son/daughter got into a fight and they are now suspended, which means you have to pick them up and keep them at the office with you. This, of course, means that you have to go to that same smart-ass boss and ask if it is okay if you go and pick up your child. You finally get home, and all you want to do is tell your partner about your day. You start talking and notice that your partner is paying attention, but not really paying attention. This, of course, gets you furious, and your story time turns into an argument about the other person not caring about your feelings…….

Whew! I know; what a scenario. Active listening is not just a technique; it must be firmly grounded in the basic attitude of a person. If we try to use active listening without it being our fundamental attitude, our behaviour will look empty and fake to the person we are in communication with. Our spirit has to genuinely respect the potential worth of the individual we are talking to; this includes considering their capacity for self-direction. We are there to listen, not to give advice or voice our opinions (Rogers & Farson,1957).

We all have experiences; these experiences fit the way we need to think about ourselves, and they are much easier to accept. It is harder to accept an experience that does not fit these beliefs. It is very important for us to hang on to a self-picture we have created, and anything that is brought to us that threatens that self-picture is easy to dismiss. Active listening does not present a threat to the individual’s self-picture; this means that there is no need to defend it (Rogers & Farson,1957). Active listeners are able to explore ideas presented to them, see them for what they are, and then make their own decision about how realistic the information is. It is at this time that they are willing and in a position that will allow them to make a change in their thoughts about a topic. If you want someone to reduce his defensiveness and become more adaptive, you have to remove the threat of being a person who is going to try and change their mind.

We also have to consider the atmosphere of the situation. If the atmosphere feels threatening, there will never be effective communication. Think about it; take this moment to think about how you have categorized your listening groups. We only open ourselves up in a climate that makes us feel safe; when we feel safe, we will incorporate new experiences and new values into our concepts of self. The moment we feel that judgment is being passed, whether critical or favorable, it does make it difficult to express ourselves freely (Rogers & Farson,1957).  It is important for both people in a conversation to understand that advice and information are almost always seen as efforts to change a person and serve as barriers to free self-expression. Let’s be real; advice is seldom taken regardless of who it comes from. This stance begins early in life and usually does not change.

Listening helps build deep, positive relationships if done well; next week we will go into how to do this more effectively.

Rogers, C. R., & Farson, R. E. (1957). Active listening. Industrial Relations Center of the University of Chicago.

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