As humans, we don’t think much about whether we’re clear when we communicate, whether we’re making an effort to understand or the impact of choosing to disconnect from a conversation.
I recently visited with married friends who presented this classic communication challenge. One is a detailed story-teller who has difficulty determining which details could be left out. One tunes out when there’s too much detail. They tease each other about this pattern, and they seem happy. Yet I wonder if such a method of operating (“MO”) can sustain the long-term happiness they want in their marriage and family. I also see where I check out at times when my loved ones tell lengthy, detailed stories about people or topics that I have little relationship to. Even I sometimes fail to listen with my third ear. *sigh*
For example, I called my mom a few days ago, as she requested after my assault. I assumed she wanted to hear how I was doing and be assured I will be okay. I expected her to at least ask! Instead, I listened for 15 minutes to a story about someone I barely know and what that person ate at the hospital the day before. I didn’t really get to hear how my mom is doing, either, before I had to go.
I’m still not exactly sure what we are trying to communicate when we have such conversations, but I know I generate them, too. So, I took a look at what we are all really saying (or trying to say) when we tell stories that seem to have no purpose.
DEFINE THE CONFLICT. My mom and I sometimes disagree about the purpose of our calls and what’s relevant.
IDENTIFY THE INTERESTS. I thought she wanted to hear about my recovery. I expected her to at least ask how I was doing. I really didn’t want to squeeze in yet another mandatory call and task to an already overwhelming schedule. I was still hurt that she called me a wimp and told me I needed to toughen up–despite my mostly effective fight back against my attacker. Even more, I was still hurt that she had the same attitude toward me when my sister physically and emotionally abused me as a child. I brought all of that mental clutter to a 15-minute call! No wonder it didn’t go as I expected it to!
I haven’t talked yet to my mom about her intent, but I can start to humanize her again by looking at what was likely. She wanted something to distract her from her loneliness and boredom during a disabling winter. She probably hadn’t given much thought to what she wanted to talk to me about. She merely needed to hear my voice so her perceived “mother’s intuition” could tell her if I was okay. She thought about her friend because that friend is currently more limited than my mom is, and my mom has mixed feelings about being healthier and more able than her younger friends. She is proud she is such a fighter (and wants me to be like her), but she is frustrated that her only lung will never make her breathe well again. She hates that this is all there is, yet she feels lucky to be alive and enjoying what she does.
Ouch. I have been so in my own world that I forgot to be with my mom in hers. I was being a self-absorbed child when I called her, rather than the committed daughter and listener that I strive to be.
PLAY WITH THE POSSIBILITIES. I can’t change that call, but I can still have many connected communications with my mom–and everyone in my life. I can still have a lot of what I want.
If I could have this conflict resolve in any way possible, all of us would become better listeners and communicators. Then, we’d put our energies toward understanding, collaborating and living in harmony, rather than toward conquering or eliminating those who are different from us.
CREATE THE FUTURE. To increase listening and effective communication in the world this week, I will:
- Call my mom and ask non-threatening, non-judgmental questions about her concerns for her friend (and for herself)
- Meditate daily for 10 minutes
- Call one loved on per day and practice my third ear listening
- Attend my crime victims’ counseling session
- Read each email as if I was listening with my third ear
What can you do this week to improve your connections with the people in your life? Whether you are tuning out your spouse, parent, boss, employees, co-workers, or neighbors, you’re likely missing a key piece of information that would bring you new understanding and effectiveness with this person and others.
Stay on PARR: Plan, Act, Revise, and Repeat.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, litigant, and trial attorney. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).