Having Others Hear You

 

Most of us can recall watching the classic ‘Charlie Brown’ videos in our living room.  Do you remember what you would hear whenever an adult speaks to the children?  A sad sounding trombone!  Not a single word was heard, only a bunch of muffled noises.peanuts listening hear  Can you relate?  Do you ever feel that someone switched your voice out for one of those trombones?  Maybe you even recognize whose fingerprints are on the instrument!  Maybe you feel like you have ‘tried every trick in the book’ to get your point across to your partner, children, staff, and friends, but they keep tuning you out.  Have you ever seriously asked yourself, ‘How many times do I have to say _____ for ____ to hear me?  Unfortunately, there is no magical number for us to say the same thing again and again and for the other person to finally get it.

So, what do we do when we feel like someone is intentionally tuning us out?  Well if you are like most of us, we crank up the volume!  We feel increasing our volume must get the point across loud and clear.  Yet, what do you think the other person has heard?  An even LOUDER sad sounding trombone.  What do you think his or her reaction will be?  Now he or she is wearing earplugs or earbuds and quickly disengaging from the conversation.  Why?  Think about the music that your family used to listen to when you were a kid or teenager. Did your parents have those ‘certain songs’ that they played that drove you nuts?  And what happened when your parents tried to convince you about the quality of their music by turning up the volume?  It was like suddenly you were a sprinter in the Olympic games making a mad dash to your room or any quiet area away from the noise.  We all have those ‘certain songs’ that are our ‘certain sayings’ that we keep repeating to our loved ones , but they never seem to get the point.

After turning up the volume, what’s the next course of action we take?  Here we get creative, and we may try a whole lot of other ‘musical numbers’ with our noisy trombone.  We give consequences.  We express how unfair it is.  We have others bring their trombones to make a little band.  When this still doesn’t work, then we find what’s ‘wrong’ with the other person.  ‘He never listens to me because he ____ (doesn’t love me or insists on being stubborn).’  ‘She never listens to me because she ____ (always thinks she knows better or doesn’t care about what I have to say).’  Are these fair judgments?  Think back to Charlie Brown and his gang. Were they a bunch of school hooligans who were disrespectful and all around troublemakers?  No.  They just were not connected to the message that adults were trying to get across to them.  Could it be the people tuning us out are not such bad people too?  Could it be that we are also having a hard time understanding them?  Sadly, for many of us after making these judgments as to why they are not listening, we ‘throw in the towel’ and distance ourselves emotionally and/or physically from the person.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We do have better choices!  And we do have a way to get that stupid sounding trombone out of our vocal chords.  This requires opening up new ways of communicating with the other person to produce new and better results than ever before.  By initiating a change of communication on your end, the other person now has the opportunity to communicate in new ways with you.  The power to produce change is yours!  One of the first things you can do when you feel that the other person has not heard what you have said is to kindly ask them what they heard you say.  This does not sound like, ‘What did I just say?!’  Instead, you want to be genuinely curious if your loved one has just heard your voice or a trombone playing in the background.  You can open up a new dialogue by saying something like, ‘I would really like to know something.  What did you hear me say?’ or ‘Can you put it in your own words what you think I am saying?’  Remember, your tone with this question will have a greater impact than the exact words you choose.  Your tone will express if you really want to know what they hear or if you don’t.  He or she will sense if you are being genuine just like you sense he or she may have tuned you out.

Here’s an example dialogue of using this communication tool.  Imagine yourself and the person you have been struggling with.  Imagine yourself in this dialogue and see if you can sense the difference.

You – ‘I want you to come with me to the class this Saturday.’

Partner – ‘Why? You know I don’t care about this boring class.’

You – (Sincere and open) ‘Honey, I have an important question for you, and I really want to know what you think because I need your help with this.’

Partner- (Curious) ‘What is it?’

You – ‘What did you hear me saying when I said, I want you to come to the class with me?’

Partner – (Confused) ‘What?’

You – ‘What went through your mind when you heard my request?’

Partner – ‘Oh. Well I thought here you are making me go to one of these classes again because I don’t already have enough to do.’

You- (Curious) ‘So, it felt to you that I was making you come to this class and that I’m not considering how much you already have on your plate?’

Partner- ‘Kinda. When you usually ask me to come to something, I don’t feel like you are really asking. Usually I have to go to these things or you will get mad at me. I thought I had already told you that I have a lot of work to catch up on.’

You- (Empathy) ‘I think I understand where you are coming from. I can ask things in a way where I really want you to do them. And I could’ve asked you more about what you had in mind for your schedule on Saturday.’

Partner- So you’re not mad that I don’t want to go?

You- No, I’m not mad. Can I share with you my reason for inviting you to the

class with me? I’m working on improving my communication with you.

Partner- Ok, go ahead.

You- Well the reason I invite you to come with me is because I really do enjoy learning with you. When we are in class together, you form ideas and plans that I would not conceive on my own. I feel close to you when we are together and that means a lot to me….

 

Are you starting to see how these questions can steer things in a new direction with not only your conversations, but your relationship?  It reminds me of a popular saying, ‘People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’  In other words, if your loved one does not feel understood by you first, then it is unlikely they will take the time to understand you.  Remember when you first started dating and you truly wanted to know more and more about the other person?  Or remember when you held your child in your arms and wondered how incredible it is to be a parent?  You were cued in to recognize all the little noises he or she would make.

We can sense when people are genuinely interested in us or just giving us the time of day.  Over time, we can lose this sense of wonder and appreciation for those we once held dear.  If you care enough about your relationship to move things in a new and exciting direction, then focus first on the positive changes you can make.  Seek to understand why your loved one has been acting this way toward you and coming up with a plan together of how to make things better.  You will find freedom from that noisy ‘trombone,’ and an understanding as well as enjoyment of one other again!

 

-Posted September 16, 2014 by Eric Gilbert, MS (Registered Marriage and Family Therapist
Intern #IMT 2167)