One of the ways I know someone isn't listening to me is when they tell me they're listening to me.
Listeners don't have to tell you that they're listening. You just know. Conflict usually has more to do with perspective than actual truth. If you give two people the same picture, they'll often describe two very different images.
So when two people who love each other have very different ideas about a common issue like sex or money, how do you resolve the differences?
That's why listening is so important.
We do a pretty good job of mucking things up when it comes to listening. Here's just five of the most common listening mistakes.
1. Hearing but not listening
The sneakiest of the five, this one gives the appearance of listening. Hearers are listening to debate rather than to understand or validate. It's really hard to listen when we fight. I'd much rather you were just wrong.
So I'll hear what you say, but only so I can point out where you are flawed in your thinking.
This may not be something you were expecting to find here, but hang in there for just a second. I think empathy is overrated. Curiosity is much better.
I see more intimate partners accidentally get themselves in trouble because they make assumptions about how the other feels or what their intentions are. If you are curious, you are listening to understand whereas, empathy gets in the way of curiosity.
Have you ever been in an argument with your significant other, only to discover you were not only arguing about something that was happening in the moment, but also something that happened two weeks or seven years ago?
One of the barriers to effective listening is that our own brains work against us. When we're in conflict, our brains interpret this as distress. In distress, the past and the present collapse and we access painful emotional memories that occurred years ago.
It takes us out of the present, and we time-travel to past wounds.
4. Yeah, but...
Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that if we give in just a little bit, we can make our point and win the day. If I concede on this one small thing you're saying, then maybe you'll see that I really am right and give in.
However, "You're right, but..." or, "I get it, but..." are usually good ways to make arguments even worse.
5. Solving the problem
One of the biggest ways we can help ourselves is to remove any agenda or intention from our listening outside of being curious about our partners' experiences. If you are used to a fast-paced work environment that depends on finding solutions to problems, then you might discover that this approach doesn't work as well at home.
Most of the time, even in conflict situations where we need to solve a problem, listening is the solution to the problem. That's because we're always having two conversations: 1) the resolution to the problem; and 2) the resolution in the relationship.
Not only do I need to have a solution to the problem, I also need to know you care. Listen to resolve the relationship before you resolve the problem.
The Golden Rule in intimate relationship listening is that unless our partners know we're listening, we're not listening.