“You’re not listening,” he says.
“Yes I am,” I reply.
I pride myself on strong listening skills – the ability to “hear” between the lines, and to read body language. I pride myself on being a parent who listens, encouraging my sons to talk – when they’re ready.
“You’re not,” he insists, barely raising his voice.
He’s giving me the look. The infamous “Look” I used to give him and his brother. The one that says “stop whatever you’re doing, and pay attention.”
Parents Listening to Kids
I’m on deadline. I don’t have time for this.
Make time, the voice says.
It’s my inner voice. The adult. The parent.
In a manner of seconds, I run through the worst case scenarios – late on my writing, or some unknown drama with my child. I know my priorities but it’s tough. Making a living, caring for kids.
The perpetual juggle.
Still, he knows not to interrupt unless it’s important. So I save my file, close the laptop, and sit up straighter. He’s been trying to explain something for fifteen minutes, and he’s right. I’m hearing, but I haven’t been listening.
Listening in Marriage and Relationships
“You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had,” he says. “The morning meeting was crazy, and it was all I could do to stay awake. Then we were assigned more interviews to conduct and that’s the last thing I can worry about while prepping for final projects.”
Empathy. Listening. Really listening.
“So how will you manage it?” I ask.
He rattles on about his colleagues, he interjects with a joke, he inquires about the weekend. I manage to offer a yes and a no and a really and a maybe. But I’m skimming text at the same time and my mind is wandering. I’m tired. I’m distracted.
I think back to my marriage, to making marriage work, to how important it is to pay attention, to carve out spaces in which you’re truly communicating. We didn’t do much of that. We didn’t do much of many things it takes to make a marriage work.
I jolt my train of thought back to this, here, now. The voice on the phone. And I haven’t been listening. At least, not in the way that I should.
Critical Listening Skills
When we teach communication skills, we talk about constructing an appropriate message and its equally well defined delivery. We understand that effective communication requires listening skills as well, and they involve picking up on visual cues if face-to-face, and understanding the speaker’s agenda if possible – venting, informing, motivating, confiding, testing the waters for a difficult request or a simple one; filling an empty emotional space.
Long ago I was taught to speak directly. There are times the indirect route serves my purpose better, and selecting my communication style is just one of the ways in which I choose to think like a man: Here is my goal; how do I reach it.
Long ago I was taught to listen effectively. Listening skills are critical; and critical listening skills are an asset.
It isn’t enough to hear the words in passing. It’s important not to interrupt. It’s important to pick out what is repeated as well as omitted. It’s essential to read facial expressions, to note the tone of voice, gestures, hesitation, the speed with which the message is delivered. This is how we discern more of the meaning behind the words. This is how we gauge our own best and most appropriate responses.
Listening to Our Bodies
My head spins and the clock on the wall tells me it’s two in the morning. My eyes burn, the screen jumps, and I take another sip of tea. It’s cold.
Instead, I put on a sweater for a growing chill, and I warm my tea in the microwave.
You’re not listening, the voice insists.
“Leave me alone,” I say aloud, and return to my bed, where I continue tapping on my keyboard.
Morning arrives thinly as I open my eyes and my temples pound. I glance at the display on my cell phone and know I’ve only slept a few hours. My legs scream as I swing them over the edge of the bed. My shoulders ache from insufficient rest.
I have until noon to make a deadline.
Eat, the voice says.
“Not hungry,” I say, throwing on jeans and a slouchy sweater.
I pad into the kitchen, trash the filter from the night before, and filling a new one with the last of the grounds I resolve to muscle my way through the day.
The voice says: Stop. You’re killing yourself.
And I pause. The voice is right, and I haven’t been listening.
Women’s Health: We Count, Too
We learn to listen in school, to listen at work, to listen to our partners and to our children. Some days, our listening skills are on the fritz. Others, they’re finely tuned and helping us solve problems – especially when we’ve slept, we’ve eaten, we’ve moved our bodies, and given ourselves a small amount of whatever it is that we need to thrive.
But for women, once we have families?
Our tendency is to remain stuck on the lowest rung of the Priority Ladder. We ignore the inner voice that instructs us to take care of our bodies, and to listen to our gut – literally. I have fought this practice all my life, and motherhood – single motherhood in particular – has only worsened it.
One more time, I plead nolo contendere, or no contest. But on this score, I ought to plead guilty.
If ever there were critical listening skills we need to perfect it is these: the migraines that recur from stress and lack of sleep, the sluggish pace that results from powering through our days on sugar and caffeine, the dumb moves we make when we’re exhausted, the depletion that catches up to us when we consistently cater to others’ needs first – until our bodies act out, and the inner voice says: Stop.
But it’s vital to to sense those times when we must listen, including listening to our bodies. That means allowing ourselves a moment to relax. That means not carrying the weight of the world on our womanly shoulders every hour, every day – because somehow we feel that’s our job.
It may mean reclaiming alone time. It may involve relaxing with our partners. It certainly necessitates treating ourselves with the same respectful attentiveness to basic health that we routinely support in others.
I repeat: I’m as guilty as the next woman, the next mother. And I remind myself again – to listen to my body. And sometimes that means not listening to our kids, to our significant others, to our bosses – politely deferring a conversation or a meeting to a time when we can listen.
- Are you a good listener – observing, as well as processing the words?
- Do you set aside time in your marriage or relationship to really talk and listen?
- What about your kids? Are you nodding as they speak, but your mind is elsewhere? Are you selectively listening?
- Do you know your body’s rhythms? Do you listen when your physical or emotional self tells you to stop?
Inspired by the 5-day writing challenge at Momalom, Five for Five, subject: “listening.”
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