Monday, July 15, 2013

Keep Relationships on Track by Listening for Understanding

Holy hearing, Batman!
I have really good hearing. No joke; it’s 20/20, or whatever the equivalent measurement is called in the world of sound. Sometimes I believe my great hearing is divine compensation. That is, it’s an unexpected benefit of my having no sense of smell. Either that or I just pay attention to stuff sane human beings don’t bother listening for. In any event, that’s not what makes this ability of mine so interesting. Rather, it’s my uncanny power of filtering. I suspect others possess this unique if not dubious skill too.
Strange how often my self-described superior hearing seems to fail when it wants. Or is it when I want? It tends to happen at the most opportune moments – like when somebody’s telling me something I don’t particularly want to hear. Bad news for instance. Example: I’m preparing to go mountain biking and get reminded of unfinished household chores. Funny how that can disrupt my auditory senses. Then again, maybe I am hearing; it’s just that I’m not listening.
It’s especially annoying that this can happen when a person is telling me about myself. Maybe they’re sharing with me something I said or did – perhaps a word or phrase I uttered that was insensitive or worse, offensive. There have been times when such a thing occurred that my ability to listen has been derailed. Ego is usually the culprit; my mind rejects the other person’s assertion because I pride myself on being an open and tolerant individual; one who works hard in the world to see and respect each and every human being I encounter.
What did you say?
Problem is, I’m human too.  As such, I am subject to my share of gaffs and boo boos. Some the likes of which could surely make your toes curl. Sometimes these goofs come in the form of clowning that goes too far. In other cases, I simply get lazy and carelessly mouth off without thinking. I like to think the times I do this are far and between and that they are decreasing in frequency the older I get. I also like to credit all the various learning labs, seminars and other trainings I’ve been through over the past several years. These opportunities supposedly educate and raise my awareness of practices related to various -isms (racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc.). Pick your poison; I’ve studied it.
The thing of it is I can still get things wrong. All that learning and supposed enlightenment and I can still slip up. What’s worse, sometimes I stubbornly try to defend my use of a word or phrase, rather than accept what was said as inappropriate, condescending or marginalizing. From there, it’s usually downhill and not in a good way. And it’s all because I’ve stopped listening to the one who has been ‘injured,’ instead, wrongfully focusing on my insistence that I’m a good person or that injury was not my intention.
I'm listening
The solution? Just listen. Listen closely and learn. For instance, when someone says you’ve said or done something harmful, be slow to jump to the, “I meant no offense” defense. And for heaven’s sake hold in the urge to tell someone to just, “Get over it.” That is, if your heart really is in the right place.
Rather than insisting that your intentions were right and honorable, instead seek to understand the impact of your words. That way, you just might find yourself with less egg on your face. Take it from one who has experienced these things, such an approach will go a long way in helping keep relationships from being unintentionally derailed.

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