Chapter 4: Listen When You Care
Listening is an important skill you can develop to get what you want out of life. Listening helps people heal from whatever blows life has dealt them. All of us hunger to be heard. We want at least one person to know who we really are and love us anyway. This can only happen if that someone is willing to listen to us. If you listen closely with caring and without judgment, you give a life-changing gift.
While it is truly a gift to others to listen well, it can often get you what you want—-others will listen to you and they are more likely to take the action you want them to take.
I can tell you how to listen, but I can’t make you want to, and wanting to is absolutely essential to doing it. I’ll describe four life situations that motivated me to develop and then fine-tune the skill.
I listen out of interest but also out of fear. I am often trying to find the safe spot in my environment. When I was little, if I listened to my father, mother, brother, grandmother, I thought I could figure out how to make enough of them happy that the tension would leave the house. My father’s mother lived with my parents for 18 years. I was alive for the last 10. She was a complaining, negative person who resented that my mother had married her baby. The tension in the house was palpable, and I cared about that and disliked it for as long as I can remember. I could feel the tension in my body long before I had any words to understand or try to fix it. So I listened intently. My mother cared. From my child’s viewpoint, my father did not seem to care because he was the other half of the arguments. I cared too much.
When my brother became a teenager who rebelled, he and my father argued. He was 16; I was 14. I wanted peace so I listened for ways I could make it happen. Since most of the time my father adored me, I thought I had a favored-child status and could influence him. I took it upon myself to explain to him that he wasn’t treating my brother fairly. He said, “I’ll fix it so you and your mother don’t have to put up with me.” He stormed out of the house and didn’t speak to me for a week. I was terrified thinking he meant divorce or suicide. I went to my mother and told her what I had done. She said, “Don’t worry about it. He will get over it.” And he did, but he barely spoke to me for a week and then he was back to his jovial self without any explanation. It took me a lot longer to get over it.
Most of the time, I received great love and support from my father as you will see in the next example. Since I have raised my own children, I feel guilty that this one incident loomed large and became so important in my head especially since I can point to instances when I screwed up big time as a parent. However, I tell it because it was a watershed incident in the development of my communication skills, especially with men. I have had to learn to say what I want from men and not worry about what they were going to do to themselves or care that they were giving me the silent treatment.
I’ve also been listened to. I married the first time as soon as I graduated from college. Two years later my husband walked out at 4:30 in the morning. At 6:30am I called home. My father answered the phone. I cried hysterically. He said, “Can you go to work?” I said, “I can’t stand to stay home alone.” He said, “I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll do something.” When I arrived at my teaching job at 7:30am, I called my mother at her teaching job. She said, “Daddy is on his way.” He drove ten hours to Nashville .
My father was an Extravert and always said what he thought—this time he didn’t. I cried and told the story until the tears ran out. Then he took me out to eat. I couldn’t eat. He said, “Take a little bite of food, a little sip of water, and chew slowly, then swallow.” As soon as I ate, the tears would begin again. For 48 hours he listened and did not give advice. I finally said, “I feel like every decision I have made for the last five years has been wrong. I’m going to make one more that may be wrong. I’m going home.”
My father gained a lifetime of redemption by listening for two days and not telling me what to do. He waited until I worked it out. Then he went to the phone, called my mother and said, “Come out here. She’s coming home. I need some help.”
She came, they packed, and we left.
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How to Be Heard and Get What You Want Most of the Time