Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nobody listens to me

You are not listening to me is a pretty common complaint and one that usually gets a defensive reaction. It's sad that the only tool most people seem to have to try and take care of their need to be heard is to tell the other person that they are not listening. I'm the first one to fall into this trap. It feels so terrible to have something important to say and to see that the person you want to connect with is not taking the time to consider what you are saying. 

Last night Pierre came home and immediately told me he had a headache. I of course conveniently forgot about this since I wanted to speak to him and ask his opinion about the plans for the week. After a few attempts to communicate I started feeling the frustration go up and I was about to start a fight by saying ''You NEVER listen to me, isn't what I have to say important etc..." Luckily (although he denies it) some of my nvc training has rubbed of on him and he said ''What you have to say is important but I am not able to listen right now, I have a headache, am hungry and need to relax can we talk about this later?''  

Of course you need to later keep faith and be available to listen but his response really underscored a key issue in communication: The importance of checking if the conditions for communication are present. I don't even know how many times I have coached parents who expected children to execute a task when the child did not even hear the request (because they were distracted by the TV or a toy or the parent yelled the request from another room) 

Checking if the person you want to listen is available is one side of the equation, the other is being honest with yourself about whether or not you are available. I have had to adjust to accepting when Pierre says he is not available but even more difficult is letting people know when I am not able to communicate in a way that respects my intentions. I just keep talking even when there are about a thousand signs that it would be better if I didn't.  

I have seen harried parents make huge withdrawals from their relationship with their children because they decided to discipline a child in a moment where they were tired, hungry, not feeling well, anxious or overwhelmed. I have also seen parents try to reason or teach a child when that child was having a major meltdown. It's easier said than done but waiting and being clear about our intentions in our relationships is essential. In these types of situations alerting everyone that there is a storm and letting the storm pass goes a long way in preventing the storm from  becoming a hurricane or a tornado.  

It's an aspect of communication that I struggle with because I get caught up in wanting to be heard and don't heed the warning signs from me or from the other person that it's not a good time. Of course there are times when what you have to say is very important and needs to be heard. I have found it useful to change mediums in these cases and write instead of speak or chose to speak to someone else who is more available. 

I once worked with a girl who had 25 years of experience on the crisis intervention line and she said that in her whole life she has only dealt with a true emergency a few times. I will always remember this because it helps me to take a step back and ask myself if there is really an emergency that justifies me reacting by using force or a directive approach to what is going on. If there is no emergency then creating the conditions for communication might take some time but will save time and effort in the long run. 

In reality though not being heard feels like an emergency. In the seven habits for highly effective people author Steven Covey describes the feeling as lacking psychological air. This is why it is so important to have a few options available should either person be lacking psychological air. It's also why the practice of NVC entails regularly doing check ins with yourself and offering yourself empathy on a daily basis. It's like breathing exercises you can't just use it when there is a stressful situation. Taking the time to listen to yourself (don't skip lunches for example) everyday increases the chances that you will be available to hear what others have to say and in return that they will be willing to hear you. 

The research supports that having choices in life is one of the best indicators of health. Knowing that what you have to say is heard and taken into consideration is really important to happiness in my opinion. I am grateful that I have had the chance to learn, model, teach and mediate skills that increase the chances that people will listen to each other. 

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