The Art of Listening: A Simple Misunderstanding
"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw
If no one is listening, a simple misunderstanding can snowball into much more.
Example: A woman arches an eyebrow at her husband and asks, "You're wearing that to the party tonight?" The man instantly feels pressured by her to wear something different – because this isn’t the first time she’s commented on his appearance.
Response #1: The man snaps defensively, "Why do you care so much about what I wear? I like this jacket!” His wife, defensive now because of his attitude, reacts with hostility and their argument deteriorates into past, unresolved issues. The angry words pour out: "You always…you never…that is so typical of you…"
Our presumptions can get in the way of good communication. If the woman had been more specific with her question, her husband may have been less defensive. On the other hand, the man could have responded in a more composed manner.
Response #2: The husband could have said, "You don't think I should wear this coat?" And the wife may have replied, "No, I think it’s too thin. I heard it's going to be really cold tonight; maybe you should wear a scarf or grab a thicker coat instead."
It takes two to tango, and if there are communication problems in the relationship, there's a good chance that at least one person is not listening or feeling recognized. What we think and how we feel affects our behavior, which in turn affects how others feel and react. This cycle is a process that we go through instinctively.
Communication breaks down when people don't listen because their mind is preoccupied or they have a preconceived notion of what the other person thinks or is going to say. Do you see how important it is to truly listen? If both people in a relationship listened to and heard each other, there would be no preconceived ideas! What amazing clarity you would have!
There are some people who are especially difficult to listen to, either because they talk incessantly or very little at all. Don't simply dismiss them by tuning out talkative people or pressuring a quiet one to open up. There's a reason for every behavior, so it's better to feel out the situation and adjust accordingly, taking into account the importance or frequency of the relationship. Good timing is an easy way to avoid misunderstandings, because trying to have a meaningful conversation when one person is exhausted or stressed can worsen the situation.