Who’s Listening?

Ever considered what an astonishingly powerful tool deep listening really is?

The summer holidays are coming.

David turns to his wife Judith over breakfast and sighs;

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 12.23.34 PM

I’m dreading summer this year!”

See if you can hear how Judith responds differently to David depending upon what Part of her is doing the listening. Or, to put it another way, depending upon who Judith is as she listens.

Judith has a Part of her who likes to keep things light and fluffy…a sort of “Don’t rock the boat” Part. This Part says:

Oh heavens – what are you saying? You love the heat and going to the lake house.”

And, Judith has a Part of herself who is hyper attuned to what-is-fair between her and her partner. This Part senses the balance may be off and from there Judith responds:

Look whose talking! It’s a pain for me with both kids home all summer, you gone all day, me trying to get work done and no routine!”

And, Judith has a Part who gets easily triggered by guilt and this Part smells a guilt trip coming so she says:

OK, OK… we agreed I’d go part-time and have some flexibility to be with the kids in the summer, and now you complain….You love your job, right?”

And Judith has a Part finely honed in response to her high-achieving-but-distant-and-grumpy-Father whose expectations for year-round hard work cast a shadow on Judith’s childhood desires for fun. This Part comes out as a snarky “don’t tell me not to have fun!” teenager so when this Part hears just those 5 words from David she quips:

You’re just like my father! It drives me nuts when you pour cold water on the kids’ summertime fun. Stop being such a grouch!”

So three questions immediately arise here.

  1. What might Judith’s responses trigger in David?
  2. What did David really mean?
  3. Instead of this, is it possible for people to listen in a way that fosters ~
    • understanding and love for oneself?
    • understanding and love for others?
    • more relationship satisfaction and closeness?

What might Judith’s responses trigger in David?

Since I see variations of this theme in my offices pretty frequently I can tell you how David is most likely to respond.

When someone initiates a conversation with a partner hoping for some solace, and that partner listens only through the narrow prism of his or her needs, fears and ghosts, and responds from those places, the speaker will not feel heard at all.

In fact, they’ll feel ~

  • dismissed (answer #1)
  • attacked (answer #2)
  • manipulated (answer #3)
  • unreasonably accused (answer #4)

And when a person feels any of these emotions, they are likely to respond with some combination of

  • frustration
  • counter attack
  • anger
  • defensiveness.

Not helpful – right?

What did David really mean?

Do we know?

All he said was “I’m dreading summer this year!”

Without being curious with David about what he meant, we have no idea what’s going on for him.

How can we ever know what someone really means?

Which brings us to the last question:

Is it possible for people to listen in a way that fosters ~

i)   understanding and love for oneself?

Yes yes, self first!

Going back to Judith, she’s not wrong for having being triggered. This is the magic of relationship! Being in this relationship with David allows Judith to discern these Parts of her. They all have a role to play. To grasp this point more fully if “Parts language” is new to you, you might find this post helpful.

The work – for yes, coming to understand and love yourself does take effort – is to cultivate a relationship with these Parts of you so that you can:

a) know what triggers this pattern of feelings, fears and beliefs (what I call a Part of you),

For Judith, can she become aware of situations that get interpreted by this Part of her as “Potential for some upsetting boat-rocking here.” ?

b) understand why this Part is concerned since all Parts are trying to help and protect you;

For Judith, can she hear that this Part is on high alert because it vividly remembers a time she was disobedient as a child and her mother yelled at her saying “Can’t you see how tough things are for me? How dare you rock the boat! Your father and I are at breaking point!” ?

 c) listen for the deeper beliefs which fuel this Part’s protective triggers

For Judith, can she allow herself to connect the dots between her belief that emotional instability leads directly to overwhelming pain and chaos and that it’s all her fault? That she has a belief if she does not keep things calm, bad things happen?

d) and might she be interested in releasing these long-held but unhelpful beliefs?

For Judith, can she witness this inner pain and let go of the belief that emotional pain is dangerous and it’s up to her to never let it be expressed?

This is the gift of relationship: it offers opportunities for us to understand, love and unburden (or de-trigger) ourselves.

ii)   understanding and love for others

To the extent we allow this gift of relationship to help us understand, love and unburden (or de-trigger) ourselves, we can offer the gift back.

If we can be clear about how we get triggered, and bring compassion to our own inner Parts so we can stay clear, present and untriggered as we listen to those we love, we can help others come to understand, love and unburden (or de-trigger) themselves.

Let’s see what that looks like for Judith and David.

Here’s their “do-over.”

The summer holidays are coming.

David turns to his wife Judith over breakfast and sighs;

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 12.23.34 PM

I’m dreading summer this year!”

Judith’s been doing some emotional homework.

She’s immediately aware of a bunch of feelings which bubble up inside of her.

She notices a pang from her “Don’t rock-the-boat Part” which she quickly calms with a warm inner hug and a reminder to this younger Part of her that she is safe in her adult relationship and not vulnerable to her parents’ volatility;

She has a momentary pang from her Part who worries David might be saying he is working harder than her and reassures this Part that she and David check in each week with how each is feeling in their respective worlds and both are mature enough to take responsibility for getting their needs met;

Her guilt-detector runs a quick scan but knows David doesn’t do guilt-trips, and she’s been working to liberate herself from the grips of this bad-boy for a while now;

And that Part who got so triggered by adults preventing kids from having summertime fun also gets a warm inner hug of acknowledgment.

Now Judith feels clear. She is centered in a calm and curious inner space from which she can say, with warmth and genuineness:

I’m sorry you’re dreading the summer David. Do you want to talk about it? What’s going on for you?”

David might need to test the waters a bit to see if he really does have permission to be curious; to be sure Judith is not going to pounce on him if he is not coming up with what she needs to hear.

I’m not sure. It’s odd – I usually love the summer but lately I’ve been feeling this sense of gloom and dread. Are you sure you want me to talk about it?”

Judith can reassure him with a compassionate nudge.

“Yes absolutely. Tell me more. You’re right, it’s odd. You do normally love the heat and the lake. What do you think is going on for you?”

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 12.59.40 PMNow Judith is listening.

She’s created a deep pool of space, permission, curiosity and compassion for David to explore what is going on for him.

In that place of quiet permission, David can explore.

“Well, now that you ask, I think there’s a mix of issues.

I DO love the summer, and time with you and the kids up at the lake. It’s one of my favorite places. And, I feel good about my work right now. I’m getting ahead and doing well. I guess one of the issues is I feel so pulled. I want to be with you, and yet I’m needed more at work to cover when others are on vacation. And then I feel bad – whichever I choose, I’m letting the other one down. I think that’s what it is.”

What a difference – right?

iii)   more relationship satisfaction and closeness?

Need I say more?

When one partner can bring self-awareness and self-compassion to his or her listening, it’s a game changer.

How much more deeply satisfying is an exchange like this, than the Parts-triggered and Parts-led alternative?

Hence my question at the top of the page: “Who’s Listening?”

If you want to build great relationships, do your best to clear the decks and show up with curiosity and compassion. For the both of you.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

 

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