"There was an old owl who sat in an oak.
The more he watched; the less he spoke.
The less he spoke; the more he heard.
Why can't we be like that wise old bird?"
That's an interesting hoot that deserves some pondering.
One of the biggest causes of stressed or broken relationships is ineffective communication. Both people speak, but nobody sits quietly, watches, and listens.
"He (or she) just doesn't listen to me!"
In our business, we hear this frequently about husbands, wives, children, bosses, clients, and colleagues. This seems to be particularly true when there are disagreements or conflict. In "The Couples' Comfort Book," author Jennifer Louden says, "When in conflict, people listen for a maximum of 14 seconds."
What occurs then?
When the listening stops, here are some things that begin: interrupting, yelling, ignoring, escaping, cowering, probing, and preaching.
Is it possible this "lack of listening" is the reason for the disagreement, misunderstanding, and conflict?
I think so, and I believe this "lack of listening" phenomenon occurs far more regularly in our relationships than most of us would care to admit, whether there is conflict or not.
As I strive to become more consciously aware of my thinking, speaking, and behavioral habits, I see it in myself. How do I know this?
* My mother-in-law recently stayed with us for a week. Immediately after several different conversations, I realized I couldn't recall exactly what she just said. My mind was wandering elsewhere. Hmmm!
* A client was explaining something to me about his business, and I assumed I knew what he thought and felt. In reality, I found later that I had no flippin' idea. A mind-reader I am not.
* I interrupted my son, Jamie, before he was finished speaking. I was going to fix it for him, or defer to my own autobiographical story.
* Carol was explaining something to me, and I became aware that I already had a rebuttal formed to prove that I was right and she was wrong, and yet I hadn't listened effectively, or asked for clarification to totally understand her perspective.
Am I afflicted with an extremely bad case of psychological defection (please humor me!), or do similar things occur for you?
I believe comparable situations are why many conversations seem to go round and around, tempers flare, feelings get hurt, and directions get misconstrued -- neither person has actually listened to understand.
Maybe this is "normal" in society. However, when I look at statistics on marital breakdown, family violence, employee retention and satisfaction, workplace stress, and mediation battles, it helps me to recognize that I don't want to be "normal." I'd rather be different -- stand out on a positive, effective limb, like the owl.
Here are my easy "observant-owl" strategies, and I challenge you to apply these too. Naturally, it's your choice, just as it is mine.
* Attention – focus on the other person. Set aside all other thoughts and actions. Avoid distractions: other people or conversations, nearby activities, phone calls, e-mails, TV, music.
* Connection – pace, or match to build greater rapport and trust. Make eye contact, notice facial expressions, eye movement, breathing rate, other body language, and then match these. I'm not meaning you should imitate him/her. Sit in a similar way (not exactly the same), match their breathing rate, smile when they smile, etc. When you are subtle with this, they feel comfortable speaking with you because you are "just like them."
* Listen – to understand the words and the associated feelings. Ask for clarification on anything you don't totally understand. It is not important that you agree; it is vitally important to understand.
* Wait – allow silence. When the other person ends his/her statement, wait and count -- one wise old owl, two wise old owls, three wise old owls... The silence is golden and indicates to the other person that you care about him/her, and want to ensure they have completed what they wanted to say.
* Think – in this silence-time, ponder on your understanding of the conversation, and formulate your thoughts proactively, rather than reactively.
* Reply respectfully – either with clarifying questions or with your own wise thoughts. Use inclusive, engaging statements such as, "Yes, and I feel...," "I respect your opinion and I see that...," "I hear what you are saying and..." Avoid "No," "But," "You're wrong," "That's stupid," or any other statement that sets up invisible walls of defense or separation.
* Verbalize your complete thought and repeat the cycle.
When I give the other person this "psychological air-time" (it is a gift), and really listen to understand, they will usually return the gift to me. They may not be consciously aware of the process. They will feel valued and respected. It's a win/win conversation.
I believe that every person has exceptional knowledge and wisdom, and most people are happy to share their expertise with others, when someone will listen. I continue to learn so many valuable things from others when I close my mouth and open my eyes, ears, and heart.
I have finally learned that I am not the "king of the beasts." I do realize that I am an important and valuable member of this forest community -- where cooperativeness, helpfulness, respect, and love will help us all to survive and thrive.
You are a member of the community too. What are joy and happiness worth to you?
If you want to eliminate or minimize arguments, sarcasm, disrespect, anger, resentment, and heartache, these easy "observant-owl" strategies will work for you too. I guarantee it is worth the effort.
I'm investing more of my time perched on a good sturdy branch, watching, listening, and learning. I'd be honored to have you join me, and there is an abundance of room.