Not with the adorable photos of your toddlers sitting on pumpkins – but rather – how do you gather, organize, store, and discard the words of your friends?
I’ve had words swirling in my mind that I’ve been wanting to share with you. Transparent, real, and personal. A change. A shift in my thinking. A transformation with how I deal with words. My words, and the words of others. It is hard to jump in, as it is raw, still has band-aids on it, salve underneath.
It starts out with – I’ve been reading this book. Why Don’t We Listen Better? Communicating & Connecting in Relationships by James C Petersen D.Min. L.P.C. . I’ve been working a few odd clerical jobs for Mr. Petersen the last few months, and he gave me a copy of his book. I looked at it. Skimmed it. Skimmed the Table of Contents. Read a couple of chapters that perked my interest, and set it aside for ‘later’. I agreed it sounded like an amazing book, and from what I read, it was really quite insightful and helpful.
Then I was asked to tweak the Table of Contents for a revision. I browsed the entire PDF version to find titles, then went through a second time with more detail looking for more points to add. On the second time more reading was involved, and I was starting to collect more information to learn how to listen better.
Then I was asked to read the PDF for a full edit. So – for the first time – being urged and compensated to REALLY read and soak in the text. Look for ways to make it more understandable. Look for simple grammar changes, LOOK. Really look. It wasn’t until the Edit that I really digested the information.
I share these long intro paragraphs, because it is a mirror of how we have conversations with our friends. A friend may tell me about a local baseball game, and I will uh-huh her because I’ve been to dozens of local games and I’m anticipating what she is going to say – so much so, that I’m no longer listening. I’m just waiting to talk to her about our latest surf session.
Or, I might listen to her story a different way. Her first 1-2 sentences will trigger a similar story in my mind. I’ll work to create my tale while nodding at hers, ready to jump in and share that I understand, by giving her my rendition of what happened to me in like circumstances.
I have a few friends that create the most crazy rabbit trail crazed happy go lucky conversations. We bounce around, remembering bits and pieces, pull the conversation here and there, sipping coffee, joyful. No one can follow us. The book re-created a few of those conversations – really two people telling two long stories, in bits and pieces. But the sting – is that neither of us are really engaged in each other’s story, only our own weaving.
We’re all chatting along, but no one is really listening. It’s supposed to be happy and light. We’re supposed to show that we understand. Be encouraging.
I’ve been encouraged to stop. Bite my tongue even (literally if necessary). And LISTEN. No matter what pops into my mind for a response mid sentence, I’m trying to toss it. Just their words. One tip that’s been helpful is that when I’m trying to show encouragement, and to show understanding, is to simply repeat what they’ve said. Or simply show through their words that they were heard.
Just this morning I chatted with a 16 year old – “So it frustrates you when your team doesn’t help you with your video assignment at school?” – brings on 2-3 more sentences describing what he really wants to do with his project. In the past, I’d jump into mom role and give him advice for how to make his team be more productive and engaged. The thing is, those ideas are already in his head. He spoke them aloud. His countenance changed. He chewed the breakfast a bit more slowly, and shared more ideas.
Yesterday with a friend we talked of hurt feelings. Normally I’d interject a ‘hurt feeling’ story to share that I’ve been there and understand. Yesterday I just asked questions with words from her story. “So it hurts your heart when you have to be the one always making first contact to reach out to get together?” – This brought on several sentences of ideas of activities she’d like to do with others, but that she’d like to be invited to instead of plan.
Just last night I sat with seven amazing friends to plan a detailed extravagant party. One of the ladies had a need, and one an idea. One kept restating the need, and the other kept restating the idea. I couldn’t help but smile. Neither were actually listening, just begging to be heard. I actually said – “Well – I’m reading this book – may I share what I’ve heard you both say?” I restated both sides and they smiled, then corrected what they meant to say, and we moved on to an amazing idea to solve our only unplanned part of the party. I didn’t have to choose sides, rally for this idea, or give reasons against the other – just help them re-tell their ideas third party so they’d listen. In this situation, it was joyful, calm, and just excited party planning. But I can see how this could really help if you are in a spot to extend help to two friends who need help communicating when they are frustrated.
And that might be the biggest thing that has changed since I worked on the first draft of the Table of Contents. I’m tossing a phrase out of conversations. “You Said.” It’s worthless. I’m trying to train myself to say, “What I heard”, maybe followed by, is that what you meant. In our home, I have several boys and a hubby that really enjoy ‘being right’. Not me of course, just them. We’ll divide a whole day of being offended trying to convince the other what they Said. Have you been in one of these conversations?
The most simple – I told you to take out the garbage. No, you Said to take it out next time I go outside. No, I Said I wanted it done right away because I’m tired of walking around it. No, You Said . . .
The crazy thing about these You Said conversations? What I probably Said was – Jon, you’re on garbage. What he heard and what I meant never matched up.
I’ve felt several “thud” (it’s in the book) moments when someone in my family has felt misrepresented, misheard, misquoted. I’ll feel the impulse rising to habitually say, “But You Said. . .” “Didn’t you hear me say?” In the last month, conflicts have been at a very low level as I’ve learned to say – “Oh, what I heard was .. . I hear now that you might have meant .. . .” “Did I hear that you wanted me to . . . . ? “ For some reason people will defend their intended words to the death. And in the end, they’ll die never knowing outside of video tape, what actually came out of their mouths.
So I’ve been thinking of these conversations, these are just fresh in my mind from the last two days, but I’ve been paying attention for a couple of months now.
I find myself turning off my brain, my need to share, waiting my turn. The only action I’m taking internally is trying to remember what they are sharing, discern how they are feeling, listening to see if there is an area that they are skirting around. I’m engaged in their conversation – trying to get a napkin sketched outline into a beautiful picture. A full finished story. A scrapbook of ideas all taped together in sequence. Photos moved around, bolded quotes, dreamy ideas. Not always a beautiful Stamped, Watercolored Scrapbook, sometimes just scotch tape and photos all on one page with a few penned captions.
And in my shame, I found that what I had done in the past, was sit next to them with a paper shredder. Like they were some sort of office laser printer spitting out information. I’d look at the captions and quickly decide what direction they are going, and what they mean to say, zip it into the shredder and start typing out my reply. Archive in Gmail. I won’t need that again, but I’ll store it here if I need to reference it with a one word label. What’s important is my well thought out response to the issue.
What I’ve found, what I’ve experienced – people don’t really talk to hear your amazing response, understanding or revelation. They talk to be heard. Can it be that simple? Can we respect a person enough to soak in their words? Help them continue their story?
One thing that’s happened several times, I’ll ask my first question, with a few of their words for clarification, and I’ll get the quickest moment of shocked expressions. A raised eyebrow. A widening of the eyes. A quick smile. As if to say, “You really want to hear more? You’re really interested?” And I find, this elusive thing – friendship – connection – really feeling validated? – is in the listening.
It’s hard to put to a single blog post. I’ll, of course, urge you to check out the book – Why Don’t We Listen Better? Communicating & Connecting in Relationships (Amazon Affiliate Link). I will be sharing more on my journey listening and talking. There are still two sides of every conversation. As the author states many times, we’re in a continual cycle of learning and growth and doing better with the next conversation.
I’m thinking back to a party, a week or two before I started the edit, when a friend stated a belief that I just couldn’t believe she held. Instead of listening, asking better questions, and really creating that scrapbook page – my part of the conversation probably resembled attack. Facts. My facts. Trying to give reasons why what she just said was the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever heard. But that’s the rub. I never really heard. Never really listened. I think she dropped a conversation bomb starter just to create banter and I didn’t respect her words. Or tried to listen. I just forced my side of the conversation.
It’s my direct desire – to change my listening habits. Receiving. I don’t want to be a paper shredder of information. Un needed. Not worthy of storing. Un important. The book asks – “Why Don’t We Listen Better?” It gives several dozen examples and techniques of why – for me, it’s because I’m too dang proud. I’ve found that I just assume that I know your whole story from the first sentence. I’ve assumed you are sharing your story with me so that I can either identify with or solve your issues. What I want to do, is breathe. Sit back in my chair. Sip my coffee – And just listen.
Am I the only one?
(This is not a book review, nor a vendor, nor a sponsored post – just my heart’s response, my attempt to put to the keyboard the conversations in my head while walking the beach. I do jobs for the author, but have never been asked to write a review. A review of the book may come in the near future, but this is just me, being raw to you.)