Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hearing everything yet not listening to a word

Forward to 2:10 on the clip.

Lee: Do you understand the words that are a-coming out of my mouth?
Carter: Don't nobody understand the words that are comin' out of your mouth.

The clip is from Rush Hour 2. Jackie Chan's character Lee, is trying to explain something to Chris Rock's character Carter, and Carter is having a hard time understanding it. Lee thinks he is speaking clearly. He understands what he's trying to say, but his partner - even though he's hearing the words just doesn't understand what the message is.

I first titled the post Listening to Everything but not Hearing a Word but as I was planning what to write out in my head I realized that was a little backwards. Hearing is the primary function of the ear. Unless you are deaf you cannot help but to 'hear'. Listening on the other hand is a conscious action. It requires focus and intent.

Parents and children are prime examples. When we were kids, my sister and I took to calling our mom by her first name because when we called her mom she wouldn't answer. She'd be watching TV, or reading a book and we'd be like 'mom, mom, momm, MOMMM!' and nothing. But we could say her name one time and she'd answer. She 'heard' us say mom every time we said it, but it was just background noise. Like being at a ballgame and hearing that everyone around you is talking but not listening to what it is they are saying.

Last weekend
Matthew and I got in a pretty big fight. I honestly don't remember how it started but the primary content was that at times we both feel like the other doesn't 'listen'. The next day we sat and talked about it and we're better and stronger than ever, but we realized that even though we can sit and talk for hours about nearly any topic under the sun, when it comes to feelings we both have a bit of trouble in the communication department.

He has a habit of not telling me when something bothers him and then when we argue about it he'll think he's mentioned it before, although I have no recollection of him talking to me about it. Sometimes I honestly just forget, but sometimes he'll think ' I need to tell Mollie such and such', and because he remembers thinking he needed to tell me he gets to thinking he actually did tell me even if he never actually got around to it. My sister does the same thing all the time. Didn't I text you about so and so? No? Oh.. well I must have just been thinking I Needed to text you, but never actually got around to it.

My problem is a bit more complicated. When it comes to feelings I can write all day and all night and express how I feel with ease. I can spout romantic, I can wax poetic, I can rant aggressiveness, you name it. If it comes to putting pen to paper, or type to screen as the case may be, I can talk about my feelings with my eyes closed and get my point across clearly and concisely.

But when it comes to actually verbalizing how I feel, the skill I seem to have with writing just doesn't transfer over. I can have what I want to say all planned out in my head. I'm going to tell him this, and how I feel about that, and how when he does this it makes me feel like so and so. Yet when I open my mouth the words rarely come out as intended. And the main problem with this is I think the words I speak match up perfectly with the thoughts in my head even though that is rarely the case. So when he says 'Mollie, you didn't say anything about that you said this' I get frustrated because I just know that I told him what I was thinking.

It's something we've realized is a problem and we're working on it, but it brings up some questions I'd like your thoughts on..

What do you do when you don't feel like someone is really 'listening' to you even though they truly believe they are and vice verse.

I make it a point to focus on Matthew when we're discussing something so I'm not only hearing the words he's speaking but I'm actively listening to what it is he's trying to say. And if I find myself distracted, which usually only happens on the phone, I'll tell him - Honey, I'm hearing what you're saying but it's just not sticking, can we talk about this another time so I can give you the attention you deserve?. This has proven to be a very successful way of making sure we really pay attention to each other when we need to talk about something important.

Feelings seems to be the only area of conversation where it isn't quite working.

Is it that neither of us are clearly expressing our 'feelings' or is it that both of us have preconceived ideas of what the other is going to say and that's what we really 'hear' instead of what is actually being said?

Matthew says I have a bad habit of assuming I know what he's going to say so when I answer him - I answer what I thought he said instead of what he actually did say. I totally concede that this is a possibility. He also concedes that he may actually think he's told me something but never actually got around to it. So we both know we have short comings, and we're working together to iron those out so we can better communicate when it comes to emotions. But I honestly doubt we're the only couple with these same issues. So...

What types of issues have you had with communicating with your partner/husband/wife/loved on?

Do you feel they don't really listen to you?

Do they feel you don't really listen to them?

Are you thinking one thing but really saying another?

And if you've overcome these problems how did you do it?

One thing we've decided to do is use a
talking stick. They have one similar to the picture at Michael's that you can put together as a craft, but we'll most likely just use a wooden spoon from the kitchen. *The talking stick has been used for centuries by many American Indian tribes as a means of just and impartial hearing. It was commonly used in council circles to designate who had the right to speak. When matters of great concern came before the council, the leading elder would hold the talking stick and begin the discussion. When he finished what he had to say he would hold out the talking stick, and whoever wished to speak after him would take it. In this manner the stick was passed from one individual to another until all who wished to speak had done so. * Info courtecy of

In other words - he who holds the stick gets to talk - he who doesn't needs to shut up and wait their turn. For two very intelligent verbally articulate people who love to make their point, it may turn out to be the most important use for a kitchen spoon ever.

1 People who coughed on a furball:

Neil Crump said...

Listening is a really hard skill to master - especially with your partner. The problem heightened during the week when tired from work, slumped on the couch and the TV is on.

Top tips that my partner and I follow is:
+ Send each other Outlook invites for social engagements
+ Turn off the TV (not when one or the other's favourite show is on) - although with our new system we can pause live TV which is great

Top thing is to recognise that your partner is your best friend and listening to them is fab.