Thursday, March 31, 2011

Listening is Listening.....Right?

Yesterday in Teacher Training we learned about Empathic Listening. It kinda blew my mind at how close to home it hits. Empathic Listening is listening with only the intent to listen. It is listening with the goal of understanding another human being. And it is almost never done. 

What is done more often is autobiographical listening. This type of listening is when you listen and try to make what the other person is saying fit into your own paradigm (point of view). You might do this by interjecting your own stories, giving advice, asking questions to lead the conversation, interpreting what they are saying, etc.

I had a lot of defensive feelings come up when the teacher was talking (as did others in my class who were more vocal than I was). So am I bad a listener if I try to relate to the person talking by explaining I had a similar experience? And isn't asking questions showing my interest in what they are saying? And me interpreting what they are saying shows I understand - right? This teacher had no clue what he was talking about! Everything he called "autobiographical listening" is what I do to ensure someone knows I am listening! How dare he suggest I am a bad listener?!

But wait. Suddenly I could put the shoe on the other foot. A few months ago I was having a bad day. A really really bad day. I had a "sure thing" penny stock that was going to give me the life I had been hoping for as soon as this technology was approved by the FDA. Over the 2 year approval process, I had convinced myself as soon as this comes in I would be able to move to the location of my dreams. I didn't need a big house, but I needed enough to pay someone to buy my current one (due to the shoddy real estate market) and have a nice down payment for one in the country on a lake. That was (is) my dream. I walked through houses for sale, I had spreadsheets showing my different price points depending on the buy out, I almost bought new bathing suits since I was so convinced I would be on a lake by next summer. Knowing with certainty I would soon be able to move out of my tiny, cramped, thisclosetoneighbors, city house was the only thing keeping me going. Then the FDA concluded their evaluation: NSE. As in, Not Substantially Equivalent. As in, not FDA approved. Shit.

I acted like it was no big deal, but over the course of the day it started sinking in. No moving. Stuck in this house from the 1940s with flickering lights and the ability to see in my neighbors windows from my couch. By the time I got home, I was pretty far depressed. My boyfriend sensed something was wrong and I tried to blow it off like it was nothing when I told him. He bought the act. 

Me: So that stock got denied by the FDA 
BF: That sucks. I told you you shouldn't have gotten your hopes up.
Me: Yeah, but I really needed to believe I was going to be able to move.
BF: I remember when I ..........blah blah blah

All I really wanted from him was to see how upset I truly was - even though I trying not to show it. I wanted him to stop after "That sucks". But instead he gave advice, he related his own stories, he prodded with questions. I didn't feel listened to, even though he was trying his best to make me feel that way. I ended up breaking down and only then did he realize how upset I was. He couldn't have before, he was so busy trying to relate to me, to "help" me, that there was no space for him to pick up how I was feeling. He was too far in his own head, thinking about what he would say next. I didn't care about his stories. I didn't want his advice. I just needed a shoulder to cry on. I needed someone to stay silent and let me bounce from anger to sadness to disbelief to depression to whatever. I needed to feel understood. 

Next time someone seems agitated or gives you clues that something might be on their mind, try just holding a space for them to open up. Let it be quiet for a moment. Let them just start talking. Stop trying to interject your own views or stories or questions or judgement. For any of you who know me personally, please call me out when you hear me begin to autobiographically listen when, in fact, you just wanted to be heard empathetically. Thanks :) I have no doubt this will be a tough change to make!

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