“You don’t listen to me!”
We seemingly get accused of it all the time, don’t we guys?
If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s an accusation we are probably guilty of much of the time. Whether it’s because there’s a game on, we’re replying to a text from a buddy, we’re exhausted or simply not interested, we have lots of excuses (note: “excuses” are different than “reasons”) for not giving our partner the benefit of our full attention.
Women’s magazines are full of Top 10 Lists about how to turn a woman on outside of the bedroom and almost every one includes listening. However, even when we protest and say we’re listening, in reality, we’re merely just hearing. So what’s the difference?
Hearing merely means we’re aware that someone is talking but we are not genuinely allowing ourselves to be open to the content of the communication that is being shared. If you’re on a first date or at a club just having a conversation, pay attention to what’s going on in your brain when the other person is talking to you.
Are you framing up your response to her while she’s still talking? Are you more focused on how good she looks? Are you nervously plotting how you’d like the night to end?
Even in the course of an ongoing relationship or marriage, don’t we sacrifice some percentage of our attention during a “conversation” to our own internal ones?
“Why does she want to talk to me about this now?”
“I can’t believe we’re going over this again. Didn’t we have this conversation just last week?”
“Tuning out” is an inaccurate description because, instead of our minds going blank,
we start attempting to justify why we’re not willing to listen.
Too often, that only leads to increased frustration and stress within our relationships because we blame her instead of taking accountability for our own unwillingness to engage.
It’s not easy to put our internal mind-less conversations on hold and honestly give her 100% of our attention.
Neurological Fact: Our “monkey minds” feed off distraction and, with multiple technologies competing for our attention, we now live in a world where our brains are in constant multitasking mode.
Perhaps that’s why women find mindful listening to be so sexy – because it’s so rare!
What to do?
First, keep your eye on the prize. No – not that prize, guys (although it could be a means to an end!). She wants you to understand her emotionally and, despite worn-out jokes to the contrary, you’re going to have a healthier and more mutually satisfying relationship if you can demonstrate a genuine interest in all aspects of her.
Second, there’s only one way to get to the Super Bowl – practice, practice, practice (and a healthy offensive line but that’s a different post!). You have to become the Peyton Manning of listening. Mindful listening requires muting our monkey minds that spend most of their time focused on events that have either occurred in the past or might occur in the future. When we are able catch our thoughts wandering, we need to practice becoming more mindful of staying in the present moment
– it is the key to listening.
You don’t have to wait for your next conversation with that special someone to start practicing. There are opportunities in every interaction whether it’s with work colleagues or out on the golf course or even with the cashier at the grocery store. Notice how your mind strays from the present moment and guide it back to paying attention to the here and now.
As you continue to practice, you’ll begin to notice that you’re able to listen in the moments when she needs you to pay attention. And, chances are that you’ll discover even more qualities about her that only add to why you wanted to be with her in the first place!
Some other mindful listening hints to add to your practice:
- There are times when it really isn’t best to pay full attention to a conversation (e.g, feeling sick, too many other people vying for your ear). Instead of pretending to listen or cutting off the discussion dismissively, try something like, “I can tell this is important to you and I really want to give you my full attention but right now I’m not sure I can do that. When’s another time we can try again?” You have to be judicious about this because you obviously can’t keep postponing conversations because there’s an MMA marathon on this weekend. Be honest with yourself and decide if postponing what you’re engaged in now can be a worthwhile price to pay for the long-term benefits of your relationship.
- Non-verbal listening is just as important as the verbal kind. Try to literally position yourself so that she can see that she is the most important thing to you in this moment. Put your phone on Mute. Turn yourself to face her and away from the TV. No matter the setting (living room or crowded bar), keep eye contact with her. Uncross your arms and pay attention to other signs that she might interpret as not being fully vested in what she wants to talk about. Smile. Nod your head. Breathe.
- As you’re fully paying attention to what she’s saying and pushing away the past/future monkey mind thoughts, ask clarifying questions to demonstrate that you are really listening to her. “I think I understand what you’re saying but let me make sure…” and then restate in your own words what you heard her say. It’s less important whether or not you nail it because she will appreciate your effort to understand how she’s feeling.
It’s a journey, guys. It may not feel natural at first but, with that all-important and ongoing practice, it can become the new normal in your relationships, romantic and otherwise. It’s become almost cliché to say that “communication is the most important part of a relationship” but it still holds true. We just have to remember that it demands that one of the participants be a good listener.