The brilliant web designer and graphic artist, Dan Grant (iDigDesign.com) read my last piece (Marriage is about Love, but..) on competent listening and shot me an email. “Stephen, I like your breaking down listening to three skill sets, but you should give us more. How about an article on each one?”
So here goes. The first kind of listening is entry level. I call it Data based, or Information gathering Listening. You are called upon many times each day to listen in this way and your skill, or lack of it, will have a lot to do with how you answer – ‘how’s your day going?’
We process information – what do you want me to pick up at the store/ how many dollars does that cost/ here’s an easy way to get there../ you need this project finished by .. and so on. While we’re listening to a great deal of other ‘noise’ in our personal environment, we are also expected to get information sharing right. In marriage many people ‘tune out’ their partner when sharing information because they are angry, hurt or frustrated and so are ‘out’ of relationship. The tuning out exacerbates the challenge of dealing with information.
It’s easy to forget to pick up the bread your partner needs when you’re frustrated. It can be a passive solution to an important relational challenge. The listening involved in dealing with the anger, hurt or frustration will be considered in the third article in this mini series – Resonant Listening.
But let’s take a closer look at Information or Data based Listening. Not only is the content usually benign, that is, not ‘loaded’ or emotionally or psychologically challenging, it is also, for the most part, basic. But if you get it wrong – consider directions to the boss’s cocktail party – you will soon have some resonant listening to do.
A good skill to increase your ability to attend to the information you are expected to handle seamlessly is called ‘active listening.’ This is a simple skill set. I listen to what you just said, wait until you are through, then give it back to you. Like this “you’re saying to get to the boss’s house in Malibu, I will take the 101 freeway to the Malibu Canyon/ Las Virgenes exit. I will head south or west until I come to Pacific Coast Highway where I will head north (or go right). Do I have it so far?
Active Listening avoids the pitfalls of anticipating, busyness and boredom. Anticipating what another has to say has to be first in the great gallery of sins committed by those who do not listen well. If I am anticipating what you have to say there is simply no way I will ‘get’ what you have to say. Busyness is noise. We’re all busy but we use this excuse – our preoccupation with what we are thinking about – as a way to minimize how really insensitive we are to the person trying to give us needed information. Boredom is false. It usually translates into a receiver caring little or being passively angry with the giver. Face these three demons in yourself and you will become a much better listener.
While active listening may seem to some of you a bit redundant it is actually a way of honoring and respecting the information giver. When both of you are satisfied that the giver of information has been fully understood, you can enjoy whatever is next. But, if you don’t achieve certainty that the information is fully conveyed and received, both of you will experience anxiety which itself tends to contaminate whatever comes next.
In the marriage model we teach (cf From Marginal to Magnificent – How to Make your Marriage Sing) the second domain is the domain of Roommates. Roommates largely use language in a kind of ‘hard hat and lunch pail’ way. The conversations are basic, clear and very practical.
So go ahead and practice. Create a game tonight with the one you love. Give yourself three minutes each to communicate some necessary information. Listen actively and tell me how you did.
Remember the two ears you carry around are the most effective aphrodisiac you’ll ever find.
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