CARING ENOUGH TO HEAR & BE HEARD!
--By Dr. David Augsberger
This book was written by a Mennonite pastor & teacher, & although some of the language is a little complex, he also has some good tips to share, & we've tried to simplify the text wherever possible.
Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable. To say something you value deeply to another & to have him or her value it equally by listening carefully & appreciatively is the most universal way of demonstrating affection.
To understand, hear each other. "I'd like a hamburger & a glass of milk," the 6-year-old said to the waitress.
"He'll have the child's portion of salisbury steak with mixed vegetables," the mother said, ignoring the boy & ordering for him.
"And what would you like on your hamburger?" the waitress asked.
Surprised, the boy looked up at her with brightening eyes. "Just ketchup," he said.
After she left the table the boy turned to his mother. "You know what?" he said. "She thinks I'm real."
A child may be the object of much affection & still not be heard as a real person. When the family rule is, "No talking back," two-way communication is forbidden at the times when it is often most crucial. The response called "talking back" usually occurs when the child responds with the same tone of voice just used by the parent.
Within each human being there is a deep need to be heard as a real person, a person of importance who merits attention & respect.
People are so different in tastes, in feelings, in hopes. Yet this most obvious of facts is insistently denied by people, especially by those who are most close. The thought that another differs in preferences, values or perspectives is seen as a threat, an attack, a challenge to us. Marital partners sometimes refuse to see the differences as though what is seen does not exist. Parents blind themselves to the growing uniqueness of a teenager as if what is not noticed will not happen.
Our differences shape the way we face & meet the World. Where one person is fascinated by the outer world of experience, another is intrigued by the inner world of ideas. While one trusts his hunches, the other goes strictly by the facts. Where one judges by feelings, the other insists on strict logic.
We vary so greatly that we can be an almost endless source of novelty & surprise to each other if we mature as listeners.
To mature as a listener is to prize the distinctiveness of each person; to listen for the otherness, to respect that uniqueness without attempting to gloss it over, to see the difference without retouching it to match one's own image. To truly listen is to see the other as distinct from myself, especially in those aspects I am tempted to assume are the same without question.
Although it may seem strange at first hearing, most difficulties arise not from our differences but from our similarities. Our differences often attract, complete, complement each other; our similarities grate, irritate & frustrate us.
When a fault in you provokes anger in me, then I know that your fault is my fault too. If I have made peace with this same area within myself, my anger won't be aroused by the sight of it in you. But when I hear you saying the very things I hate to hear from myself, I get stirred up.
The similarities may often be in how we act toward each other, not in what we actually say. For example, I may say, "I'm sick & tired of your always being so judgmental; you're forever cutting me down in a cranky way." Note who is being judgmental, cutting & cranky!
TO UNDERSTAND, HEAR ALL OF EACH OTHER
An old friend of mine reported, "I must have become invisible or unimportant or something like that at 70. At least people began speaking to me with the kind of comments that needed no response."
"How are we feeling today?"
"My, you are looking well."
"And I found that my responses were not heard or did not matter. So I gave up the attempt. There is so much to express, but who will listen? Some days I am full of loneliness, looking for a way to make peace with past conflicts, trying to understand my life. That's when I need to talk. My family is quite willing to hear my happy side, but no one has time for me while I sort out some of the events that really matter."
Deep within us is a profound need to be heard & understood, understood not in part but in whole. When only a portion of the person is heard, the unknown & unrecognised side presses for attention. Each person deserves to be heard as a whole, to be wholly seen by at least two or three others in a lifetime, to be understood not just in part, but as a self of many parts.
you think you understand
what you thought I said,
but I'm not sure
you are aware
that what you heard
is not what I meant.
In good communications the intent equals the impact. This should be the goal of every conversation. My intent, filtered by my expectations--emotions, hopes & needs--gets put into words. These words, filtered by your expectations--emotions, hopes & needs--make an impact on you as the listener. When, after passing through both these filters, the impact is still reasonably close to the original intent, clear communication is occurring.
Good communication is two people trying to perceive something in the same way, with the same meanings. Difficult as it may seem, the rewards gained en route to this goal are worth it all.
"TRY ME AGAIN, I'M LISTENING."
Fifteen minutes ago the lawn mower overturned on the hill in our front yard, seriously damaging Nancy's foot. After rushing her to the emergency room of the hospital, I am standing in the hall waiting for the surgeon's report on whether the toes can be saved. A friend approaches & I pour out the story of the accident. Just as I am about to share my feelings of inner turmoil, the other interrupts to tell of two similar accidents.
At that moment I don't want to hear about the pain of others not present. I want to share my own. Overloaded with worry, concern & empathy for Nancy's suffering, all my channels are in use. The information is coming at me, but I am not making use of it. The only thing I recall of this moment is of my frustration at being told two stories. The content is gone since I refused admittance.
Listening virtually ends when I am overwhelmed by stress, overloaded with tasks or so wrapped up in my own concerns that I have little room to entertain another.
To hear another I must make room within myself to admit the other's words & meanings. When I am filled with excitement or exhaustion I am not completely available to another. Making room within myself requires a series of steps, taken in part or attempted as a whole. The steps toward truly hearing another include: (1) a willingness to give another my attention. (2) an openness to receive the other's views & values. (3) a readiness to suspend judgement or evaluation. (4) a patience to wait until the other is done. (5) a genuine consideration that seeks to take the other's place for a moment & (6) a commitment to work toward a dialogue that enriches us both.
Selective services. With more than 400 selling impressions a day bombarding the average North American, an inner warning & screening system against this pushy persuasive world is indispensable. The answer is selectivity.
Selective exposure limits the amount of signals coming in by eliminating many of the possibilities. There are TV channels, magazines, books, plays, persons, friends, perhaps even family members that can be dealt with by avoiding or evading any exposure to that person or source.
Selective perception sometimes takes place because I do not see important information which is there before my eyes. I don't hear words, emotions or meanings that are obvious to another but oblivious to me. I see what I am willing to see, hear what I am willing to hear. I may see what isn't there, or fail to see what is there. For example, a side comment by one of the members of my small group misses me completely. I'm absorbed in expressing my view of the group's task. Later, as I listen to a tape of the session, I hear a totally different message than I received an hour before. I had tuned out the minority & was responding to those who agreed with me.
Of course selectivity is also an asset. It saves us from being overloaded, overwhelmed with information, overtaxed with demands from a humming, buzzing environment. Even at our best, we each only understand & recall a small part.
Every person has a different selective "filter", so the following catalogue of "hearing disorders" is at best approximate.
Ruling Out the Speaker: "He has nothing new to say. I'm not interested in the conversation; count me out."
The first line of listening defense frequently eliminates people entirely. Finish the line: "I tune out..." (my son, my talkative sister, my work associate, etc.)
Ruling out people ("He's of no interest to me") cuts off listening before it can begin. To rule you out is to say, "As a rule you are not worth hearing. So I will live by that rule that we are to coexist but not to contact." I resent that rule when imposed by others. I can refuse that rule when I find it in myself.
Reading in expectations: Reading in my expectations can inflate, distort or completely reverse your meanings. For example, if I am afraid that you will be unfriendly, I may be sensitive to anything which can be perceived as distant, cold, critical or rejecting. When I have a hunch about the other's motives, I tend to hear it confirmed in everything that's said.
Rambling or Racing Ahead: We humans think at about 400 words a minute, we speak at a fourth of that. This difference creates infinite possibilities for rambling off down a side road suggested by the speaker, or racing toward a finish line the other has not yet neared. Since we can handle information a lot more quickly than the speaker can put it out, we have the choice of staying with the topic & concentrating on it or letting our thoughts wander off to some distant place from which they may never return.
Rehearsing a Response: As one speaker commented, "We are our own most enchanted listeners. No one speaks as well or on such interesting topics as we do. If we could listen just to ourselves, listening would be no problem." The great temptation to listen to our own thoughts while the other is speaking & polish our reply for presentation at the earliest opportunity seduces us away from what the other is saying. Especially when the other has said something with which we disagree, it is tempting to rehearse a rebuttal or create a new response. Meanwhile we've missed whatever the other was just saying--maybe the part that would make our next question unnecessary or our argument irrelevant or our comment without value. When we listen, we should try to stay with the other to the end of the point or the paragraph, at least.
Reaching a premature conclusion: "I've heard enough to know where he's going with this argument. I've heard it before & it's all wet."
Reacting to trigger words: "I didn't hear a word you said after you called my child a `kid'. Goats have kids. Have you no respect?"
Responding with evaluation: "The way you say it is (a) clever, (b) creative, (c) crude, (d) contradictory, & I am more interested in your speaking style or the lack of it than in what you are actually saying."
Rejecting the person or personality: "You come on too strong. I don't like authoritarian personalities. I don't need to listen further."
I WANT TO HEAR & BE HEARD!
No relationship is better than its communication is clear. The health of any relationship--friendship, partnership, marriage--begins in open two-way communication with the same amount of equality. The more equal the conversation, the higher will be the satisfaction of both participants.
In dialogue there is a mutual respect for the other person & their feelings. It is a two-way process in which two people reveal, discuss & share the concerns that each prizes. There is a process of uncovering & discovering. I discover you through what you are saying, & invite you to become aware of me as I uncover myself through what I am saying.
Dialogue or intimate conversation should be continual even between two people who think they know each other well. Often, if you think you know your wife or your husband, it is because you have given up the real attempt to discover him. The difference between the image you have made of him & what he really is will grow ever deeper, unless opened up by heart-to-heart conversation.
LEVELLING WITH OTHERS!
When in stress, some people immediately talk down to the person seen as a wrongdoer. Their mouths turn down. Their words are downers. The opponent is put down.
In contrast, others instinctively talk up in response to any threat. Their mouths turn up in fixed smiles. Their words are aimed upward.
When in distress do you talk up to the other? Or talk down? Or talk with?
Vertical communications--talking up or talking down--are often characteristic between older children & younger children, or sometimes children & parents.
Talking down has many forms: Blaming ("Whose fault is it?"), scolding ("Why did you do such a stupid thing?"), judging ("That was a wrong move"), belittling ("How many times do I have to tell you...") etc.!
Talking up consists of an equally long list: Placating ("It's all my fault. How can I repay you?"), grovelling ("I'm so sorry I blew it again."), etc.
Vertical communications--words that come down hard on another or lines that seek to play up to the other--are seldom very good for communication. Their function is to coerce (Down, bad boy!) or seduce (Let me up, I'm a good boy!).
Horizontal communication--talking with--is the open exchange of ideas, information, feelings & requests that takes place between people who recognise each other as equals. Such levelling is equally free to give & receive, to speak & to hear, to share.
Steps in Levelling: 1. Suspend judgement. Believing in another who believes what is to me unbelievable, respecting another person who accepts what is to me unacceptable, hearing another as he says something I am totally against demands special listening skills, skills that enable one to hear the person while placing his particular views on hold for a while.
This means I try not to see you as a wrong person even though I may confront your view as a wrong view. I will not judge you as an inadequate thinker even though I may argue that your explanation of an event is not adequate. I will not put you down as a brother or sister while putting out how I differ & disagree.
2. Avoid questions at tense moments. "Don't you think that...?" (No, I don't think that. You do. And you're asking me a leading question to try & get my agreement.)
"Why did you do that?" (I don't have a good reason. Maybe that's the point of the question, to punish, shame or embarrass me, to show that I have no good reason.)
"When are you going to do something about...?" (This isn't really a question; it's a demand.)
"What did you mean by that?" (This is a multiple choice question. It might mean (a) tell me once again, (b) was that meant to be a dig? (c) how could you say that to me? (d) why do you always beat around the bush? (e) none, all, several of the above.)
"Didn't you promise to...?" (This is a setup. It maneuvers the listener into a corner, where he is ready for the hatchet.)
When in doubt about a question, use a statement. Questions are too treacherous to use when tensions are high. As a simple rule, to convey a message, make a statement. To gather information, use a question. If what I really intend is to make a statement, then I want to do it openly & frankly in a clear statement. If what I want is more information, I will ask a question.
3. Reply simply. "Isn't that interesting," a friend of mine used to say. He said it when he agreed, when he disagreed, when confused & even when bored. He had developed a standard reply for all listening situations. It expressed interest without expressing interest.
The art of giving a simple, level & inviting reply frees another to continue or to explore more deeply. The following spectrum of responses moves from 1-word replies to complete rephrasing of the other's words.
a) Repeat. A very short reply that simply repeats the key word, the feeling word, the puzzling word.
"I haven't been doing much of anything this past week since I got laid off. I guess I just feel lousy these days."
"Yes, ever since I got laid off I just..."
Some of the best responses in listening are short, pithy & contain a request to keep talking. The encouraging sounds of "uh-huh", "oh" or "mmm..." often say more than words. They are feeling sounds, empathy sounds. When used fittingly & genuinely they say "tell me more", they communicate understanding without having to say "I understand".
b) Reflect. A short reflection of what is heard as a key phrase or feeling can invite further exploration. Rather than parroting the same words, the intent is to make a response so that what the listener says in her words could be accepted by the speaker as what he intended to say.
"I get so frustrated with my job that I want to quit, yet it's the best job I've ever had."
"You both love & hate your job."
"I sure do!"
c) Request. A simple request can invite further conversation without stopping the stream of thought. The request acts as an invitation to go farther, perhaps deeper.
"Say more." "Tell me about the feelings you've been having." "Yes, I'd like to hear what happened."
d) Understanding. A clear acknowledgement of the wish to understand can often help sharing.
"I get so fed up with my mom's cross examinations. I'm really glad she's interested in my schoolwork but I feel like a kid being supervised."
"I want to understand this. You like it that she's interested in you, but you also wish she'd show it by listening to how you want to say it rather than asking all of her questions."
e) Support. When one is risking the sharing of deep emotions, or revealing parts of the self that are uncomfortable as they are put in words, a word of support can free the other to go on to feel his feelings & express her real thoughts.
In all responses, the words you choose form the smallest part of the message. Some researchers go so far as to mark the emotional impact of your words as only 7%. Tone of voice is 38%, facial expressions, posture & gestures form a full 58%. We learn early to read the person first & decipher the words second.
Here are some helpful rules about tones, overtones & undertones:
1. When the tone of voice conflicts with the content of a message, the receiver will respond first to the tone.
2. When a verbal message conflicts with a nonverbal message, the receiver will act first according to the nonverbal message.
"I think people should wait until they know each other very well before they kiss," the young woman says as they say goodnight at her front door. She continues to stand looking at his shy smile. He kisses her, she responds warmly.
3. When a compliment & a criticism are offered together, the receiver will hear only the criticism. "I like your taste in clothes, but you've put on some weight, haven't you?"
4. When two comments are connected with a "but", people rarely recall what was said before the word "but". "I enjoyed the evening with you, but when you started talking about people not present, I wished I were somewhere else."
Hearing & being heard is a matter of trusting & risking. Trust & risk go hand in hand. Each is dependent upon the other. Any increase in trust is evidenced by taking further risk. Any risk invites further trust.
Initially, risk demands a climate of trust, but to merit trust you must show yourself as trustworthy, & the main way to establish trust is by risking self-revelation. Just as "the chicken is the egg's idea for producing more eggs," to quote one author, so risk is trust's way of increasing trust.
Coming to know another is a risky process. Allowing oneself to be known is even greater. Trust & risk are required equally in both sides of the interchange.
"If you really understand me, will you still love me?" "Reflecting on last week's conversation," Ted says, "I'm a little scared. I'm afraid I told more about myself than I intended to reveal to anyone & I'm a little afraid to go further. If you understand me that deeply, will you like me?"
Ted's question poses the two poles of feeling that spring up around sharing: (1) "If you find out what I'm really like, you won't love me." (2) "If you just understood me, you'd love me." The first drives us away from others. The second draws us toward them. Most of us have both poles. One part of us yearns to be heard & understood. The other hides it lest it be found out & rejected. The side which wins out in this inner tug of war serves as censor to the other. In one person the temptation will be to over-reveal, in another to under-reveal.
The over-revealer may disclose too readily, too fully, too rapidly. At first glance he appears warm, spontaneous, trusting; but a second look shows he may be taking more of your time than appropriate, demanding more involvement than he should. Since he hasn't learned to set limits for himself, the listener has to do so for him. In a healthy friendship or relationship both people share in defining what a relationship is & in deciding what it will become.
The under-revealer is masked. She reserves control for herself. Cautious & contained, she is concerned about presenting a studied face to the World. She appears disciplined, self-sufficient or very private. She does not easily reciprocate when another shares personal information.
Sharing is a two-way street. "I felt angry at you last night," my friend Sara said. "I shared a lot of what I had been feeling & going through, & when we quit I realised you hadn't shared anything of yourself. I felt cheated."
After leading a 3-day workshop, I had gone as a houseguest to Sara's home. Sara's husband, Ben, had been a participant, she had been at her job. Now she wanted an equal chance to visit. Exhausted, I simply listened & congratulated myself that I was at least able to do that when I was so wiped out. Now I realise that I hadn't been as kind as I thought I was.
To invite another to share deeply & then to not reciprocate leaves the interaction off balance. Or worse, it is an unjust treatment of a friend. If I am too tired to carry on a two-way conversation, the least I can do is admit it early on & offer what energy I have available.
Monologists, verbal road hogs who take up both sides of a conversation by taking all the time or constantly turning the topic back to the self rather than pursuing common, similar or shared experiences, are violating the golden rule of hearing--hearing as you wish to be heard. The listener who supports such one-sidedness is equally responsible for it.
"When the word got around that I had cancer," Jan reported, "I soon discovered something surprising about people. After five or six conversations one day, I realised that I had little doubt about who really cared. Those who cared were those who listened, who really heard me without trying to explain or advise or catalogue their illnesses. It's not hard to tell if you've been cared for. The measuring is done by the listening."
Do you hear Jan? She is scared, confused, angry & full of feelings that deserve expression. And she is not looking for someone to tell her what to do with her pain or where to go with her problem. Listening is one sign of caring she recognises.
Listening provides the human connection that is so crucial when one is suffering or confused about life. It can be the gift of presence that offers help when a person feels isolated, alienated or unwanted by others.
Caring includes accurate attention to what is said, a genuine empathy, a willingness to help another, a willingness to see the other as he or she is, a commitment to be truly helpful as the moment for useful help arrives.
When hearing is done as an act of caring, it is a healing process. It allows the speaker to release the hurts of the past & be filled with the light of the present, & turn to the inner Healer, the Man Christ Jesus Himself!