Paying Attention When It Matters

Latest News Thursday, 07 Apr 2022

There are times when nothing else matters than to look into the eyes of someone. Times that demand our full attention and focus on the person talking to us. Times that require us to listen and reflect and acknowledge. These times are rare and too often, we have missed an opportunity to connect deeply in ways that can be transformative to the child or person to whom we are talking. Sometimes, we don’t have to say much in return. A genuine attempt to listen with the intent to understand (not to reply) is all that’s required. It is a skill worth cultivating in any relationship and one that is so, so hard to cultivate in an era of self-absorption and social media obsession.

(Narcissists don’t listen. They are only consumed by a desire to have an audience, an obsequious audience. They demand to be heard and have no desire to hear.  (Here is a joke that characterizes this: My therapist said that my narcissism causes me to misread social situations.  I’m pretty sure she was hitting on me.))

Sometimes, the simple act of attentive listening is all it takes to resolve conflict – at home or work. There are 3 threads that run through all conflict. All arguments are really about the same thing.

Did you hear me?

Did you see me?

Did what I say mean anything to you?

These 3 threads are present in all relationships. The 3 offer a way to check in with yourself and with the other and can be used to assess how well one is attending. 

Do you hear me? - this is about listening. We are too familiar with knowing what it is like not being heard. Conversely, we know what it is like for someone to give us their full attention without distraction. Listening without interrupting and holding the space without filling it with one’s own views. 

Did you see me? This thread is about being seen for who we truly are. Conflict makes us speak unkindly when we know we are kind. It makes us short-tempered when we know we are evenly keeled. People don’t have a problem with the conflict but have a problem when they feel they are being misunderstood - when someone does not understand who they truly are and what they stand for in their world. The main source of anguish is not being seen for who you are. This thread is critical - do we see them the way they see themselves? This is particularly true when we are close to people. 

Does what I say matter to you? This thread is about acknowledgement and validation. We get caught up in questions like - do you agree with me? Or how can I get you to agree with me? Feeling as though you can understand their point of view serves as a buffer for difficult conflict. At work, we have the power of dealing with the worst aspects of conflict simply through acknowledgement. Demonstrate that what they are saying matters even if we don’t agree with their point of view. “I care about what you are saying” or “Your point of view matters to me” 

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