Were you really listening or merely rehearsing what you were going to say next?
The recent article, When She Uses Your Feelings As a Weapon, aroused a great deal of commentary.
One woman complained, for example, that although she sees herself as listening to her boyfriend talk about his feelings, and does not regard herself as being critical, she nonetheless experiences her boyfriend getting mad at her when she responds with her own feelings.
She believes she is entitled to express her feelings and is surprised by her boyfriend’s angry reaction when she does so. She obviously believes in “fairness.” “If you get to say what you feel then I get to say what I feel.” This rule seemed reasonable to most of us as children, but it doesn’t work very well in this situation.
When we listen to someone express their feelings we need to really listen, using active listening. You allow your body to relax so you can take in everything the other person is saying — without criticizing or otherwise reacting.
The woman in question may think she is listening, but in all likelihood, while her boyfriend is saying what he feels she won’t actually be hearing him. In her mind what she will hear is herself sub-vocally countering whatever he says with what she wants to say in return.
If for instance, he says, “I feel hurt because you don’t trust me,” she will be saying to herself, “well, I can’t count on you to do what you say you’re going to do.”
In other words, she isn’t really listening. She is only hearing enough of what her partner says to allow her to rehearse what she is going to say as soon as he stops talking.
Her mind-set is defensive rather than empathic. To really hear what someone else is saying, you need to be genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is feeling. What you feel isn’t important. This isn’t about you, it’s about the other person.
Active listening isn’t easy for most of us. When we hear someone talk about their feelings we tend to take what is said personally. It is difficult sometimes not to take the other person’s feelings personally because often what they are saying does pertain to us. But, in active listening the idea is to be disciplined enough (mature enough) to really want to know what the other person is feeling.
Please understand that the behavior I’ve described is perfectly normal for both men and women. We all tend to take what others say personally, waiting “our turn” to express our own feelings and opinions. We are all equally dismayed when the conversation goes awry, and wonder why.
Learning how to listen “actively” is like learning anything else. It takes time and practice. The next time your partner begins to talk about his/her feelings see if you can concentrate on what he or she is saying. And when your own feelings that arise in reaction to what is being said threaten to disrupt your concentration, see if you can let them go, and re-focus on understanding and appreciating what the other person is saying. Imagine yourself having those feelings. No one is going to have a feeling you haven’t already had, so try to remember what those feelings were like.
When the other person has finished talking, simply acknowledge the feelings expressed. “You’re hurt,” or “ You feel I’ve betrayed you.” Don’t try to comment on what the other person has revealed, or try to talk them out of feeling whatever they feel. Don’t try to fix them, or defend yourself. Let the feelings stand as they are, and wait. Why wait? Because this kind of listening is powerful. Having someone really listen is extraordinary. It is an incredibly respectful and caring thing to do. It will have an impact. Wait to see what that impact is.
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Learn More from the Author: Engaging the Dragon
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