Sunday, July 12, 2009

Effective Listening 101

"I think it's hilarious that two little boys cannot hear me when I'm yelling at them from two feet away, yet when I whisper the word "cake" they come running from two backyards over...."
~ quote from my friend Julie McCord

I think the second most common cause of divorce is failure to listen. The first reason, of course, is improper loading of the dishwasher, but that's another blog post. I think that 100% of all kids and 99.9% of all men have listening problems. (I want to remain hopeful that perhaps somewhere exists a man or two who know how to listen.) The thing is, we expect this with our kids...

"Don't take food out of the kitchen."
"Don't eat in the family room. Keep it in the kitchen!"
"Oh," said in complete surprise as if the child has never heard this rule before.
"Don't you ever listen to me? I tell you every day not to take food out of the kitchen!"
"Huh? Did you say something, Mom?"


But having to go through this routine with our spouses just does us in. I don't know about anyone else, but I already have 6 kids. I don't need a seventh. I have this wacky notion that my spouse, since he's technically an adult, should be able to listen better than the 5 year old. Call me crazy.

Seriously, I've been trying to pinpoint the exact point in the breakdown of our communication because listening is quite an involved process. One not only has to have the ability to actually hear the words, but they need to be able to comprehend and process the information once it's heard. Then they have to remember said information. And heaven forbid, they have to make a decision based on the given knowledge. There are a lot of places where communication can go awry.

The problem that happens when your spouse doesn't listen to you, aside from the fact that your kid could be left sitting at the baseball diamond because someone didn't realize someone was supposed to pick him up, or (even worse) someone could pick up the wrong flavor ice cream at the store because someone didn't hear you when you said butter pecan, is that you start to feel worthless. When the person who is supposed to love you, can't listen to you and remember what you've said, you start to feel like you're not worth listening to which is not a good thing.

"The first duty of love is to listen."
~ Paul Tillich

But never fear. I'm nothing if not helpful, therefore I've pinpointed some areas where listening breaks down and I've compiled a list of useful ideas you can use to help your spouse with his listening skills.

The Wife's Guide to Effective Listening

1. Too Many Distractions: Make sure there are no distractions around while talking to your spouse. They can't be expected to listen if the game is on tv. Or if an infomercial about some new car-care gadget is on. Or if scantily-clad girls are on. Or if Family Guy is on. Or if a fuzzy screen of just snow is on. Basically, you just want to turn the tv off.

If you have kids, try to find some space away from them for a little while. HA! Ok, after reading that one, I couldn't stop laughing. Oh, that was funny! Let's try that again, shall we? Get a babysitter and go out. I would suggest waiting until the kids have gone to bed, but most men I know hit a kind of vegetative state by the time the kids turn in. I know many men who have perfected the attentive stare even though they're actually, technically asleep. You don't want to try and communicate when they reach this state. If you're unsure if they're awake and attentive or about to start snoring, look for signs of telltale drool at the corner of their mouths.

2. The Message is Too Complex: You want to make sure you're not talking above your spouse. Don't use fancy words with more than 2 syllables. Always have less than 3 points you'd like to make. Don't switch topics on your spouse.

"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?"
~Winnie the Pooh

3. Body Language Gets Misinterpreted: For the most part, men do not "get" body language. Hands on your hips, arms folded across your chest means nothing to the menfolk. You would think that was a pretty sure-fire sign of displeasure. You would think. However, imagine this scenario: You use very obvious (to us) body language like, for example, smacking your spouse upside the head. What does he reply with? A dumbfounded, "What was that for???" Don't expect them to get the visual clues. Just skip the body language altogether.

4. Their Mind Wanders Away From Conversation: Sometimes a guy's mind just starts to drift away from the conversation. Unfortunately there's not a whole lot you can do for this one. You could be talking about how you'd like him to take out the trash before it overflows onto the floor or before mice take up residence in the garbage can, but since this is essentially a boring conversation to him, his mind will likely wander to things like how many games the Bears will win this season, or a joke that his coworker told him 15 hours ago and the punchline that's just sinking in, or the fact that he can see a good 2 inches of cleavage thanks to the shirt you're wearing. I would suggest wearing non-revealing clothing, but their minds are still capable of wandering and imagining what color bra you're wearing and if you're wearing a thong...

Still, it's a good idea to raise your volume significantly every couple minutes to make sure he's still listening/reacting to your voice. Maybe even shout out some nonsense just to see if he's paying attention. ", please take out the garbage CHICKEN NUGGET! when it starts to get to the top..." Or perhaps, like I do with my attention-challenged children, you might want to say, "Look at me" every few minutes to make sure their focus remains on the conversation.

5. Forgetting the Conversation Minutes Later: Sometimes your spouse is completely focused on you; they're paying attention and they're listening and understanding what you say. And then, an hour later, the conversation flies out of their brain. I suggest you write down important points you've made. Don't expect them to remember to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home tomorrow. Write it down for them. Yes, there's a good chance they'll still forget, but if you've written it down, you'll have more ammunition when you accuse him of not listening later. "I even wrote it down for you!!!"

Oh crap. OK, I might have maybe, slightly, a little bit, not heard Joe while I was writing this. I might possibly have asked him a question he might have conceivably just answered. Now, I'm not admitting to anything here, but I guess, perhaps, just maybe, if you're a guy, you can use these tips to help your wife enhance her listening skills too. You know, if, entirely hypothetically of course, your wife has some of these listening problems challenges.

That is all.

"If speaking is silver, then listening is gold."
~Turkish Proverb


Lynn from For Love or Funny said...

I love the quotes you included in your post. I'm also relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who struggles to get folks to listen!

Suburban Correspondent said...

Sometimes it is hard to believe that Larry and I share the same native language. Maybe we should both take ASL.

Seriously, though (in case there is a serious lining to this post), have you read "The Surrendered Wife"? Ignore the horrible title - it's not like it sounds. It is a good explanation of what they hear when we talk and how to better communicate with our husbands. Check it out.

Jennifer said...

Are you having one of those days too? :)

noexcuses said...

Great post! Oh, how you nailed this one! I totally agree that you need to treat your spouse as you would any one of your children!

Anonymous said...

So true, Dawn. I especially like the bit about him thinking about what color bra/thong you're wearing. That is SO my husband :) His eyes will literally drift down a few inches and then 30 seconds he'll look up at me all dazed and say "huh?" like he's coming out of a coma. Lol

jana said...

Does your husband ever check in on your blog? He may get a clue on how you're feeling about your relationship.

Alli said...

Wow! Dawn, you must have ESP - along with superior listening and speaking skills-.....I was JUST having this conversation (with myself, of course) about my husband, too. The blank stares, the "huh?" 20 minutes after I have tried to communicate with him, and the "you NEVER told me (fill in the blank)". AUGH!!! So frustrating. Tell me again - why do we keep them around? :)

Becky said...

This is GREAT! Except the last part where you might have possibly admitted some fault of your own. There's no need to do that!!

Yesterday I wanted my husband to turn off the oven when the timer went off, cover the dish with foil, and leave it in the oven till I got home. I had to say, "Look at me!" and "Pay attention!" a couple times while I was talking to him! I was worried that it was too many steps for him, but he got it right.

Jody Maley said...

Hi Dawn

I too am a mom of six & totally relate to your post! (4 boyz 2 girlz)

I would love to re-post your article on my do I go about doing that?

It was funny & cute and great info!

Sincerely JODY in Beautiful BC

Caeseria said...

Some husbands are perfectly equipped to handle multi-syllabic words... just saying.

bardess said...

This is priceless! I should leave this for my husband so he knows how to deal with me! (Our roles are a little reversed.)

May I take a bit of this to post on my blog (with a link back to you of course.)?

M.A. Smith said...

My husband listens.

Just yesterday, I was lamenting that we had no plain chocolate in the house (I had cramps, and chocolate would help improve my mood considerably). We were texting (and he had to get back to work) and he missed my text about picking some up on the way home, but he did think of doing that all on his own.

sjm4him said...

So very funny. Needed to read that! :)

Angie said...

So true! You have to keep a sense of humor about to avoid beating them for it.

Mike and Mindy Aumann said...

Great post! We're going through a DVD series about this and it's very interesting -

Jennifer in Wisconsin said...

My favorite sign:

Men are like a deck of cards
You need a heart to love him,
a diamond to mary him,
a club to beat him
and a spade to bury him.

Leanne said...

Just last night my husband admitted he did not know the name of one of my closest online friends. I've known them, loved them, talked about them, for 10 years. TEN YEARS.

SubWife said...

Very funny, in a sad sort of way. Still, very, very funny, Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow - sounds like a tough day...week...month - not sure. I can only speak for my own hubby - but if I ever started treating him like one of the kids things would only get bad fast.
I figured out a while ago (going on 20 years) Men need sex and respect. In what ever order is necessary.
I'm thankful for a God loving man who may not always hear what I'm saying - but trys to listne when it counts.

Michelle said...

Well thank you for writing this for me, as I just had a conversation recently (ummm Saturday?) with my husband about how I can't have a third child. somehow those tips... I think I need a more remedial course for him :)

Anonymous said...

Dawn, you've been peeking in my windows again, haven't you??? This was one of your top 10 posts for sure!! Thank you for making me laugh out loud yet again! :)

Donna in PA :)

Laura G said...

Ugh, can I ever relate! I so often here, "but you didn't tell me!". Yes, I did tell you, but I can't make you listen! I now try to reduce my "white noise (talking too much)", so when I speak he might actually listen. I also preface the really important things with "You might want to listen so later you don't say I didn't tell you!" Feeling a bit like a nag, but there are just some things that need to be heard! Like us!

I too tune him out, so I'm guilty as well. It is about respect and loving the person enough to listen, even if it isn't something we're interested in talking about. Thanks for the laughs and reminder!

Anonymous said...

" please take out the garbage CHICKEN NUGGET!! when it starts to get to the top..." - I almost peed my pants when I read that! Mine would stop me to ask why I was calling him a chicken nugget! ha

Slack said...

I read this yesterday and empathized. But my husband was still asleep and I was feeling generous so I decided not to comment. That was yesterday.

Here's the thing I do not understand: the garbage is picked up EVERY Tuesday morning by 8:00 a.m. EVERY Monday night I remind my husband that Tuesday is garbage day and EVERY Monday night, I politely ask him to take it to the curb (it's not even that far!).

Many Monday nights I'm dragging the cans out at 1:00 a.m. b/c he hasn't done it yet and I doubt he will.

Last night I again did my Monday routine only I emphasized that they really needed to go out b/c both cans were full. Before I went to bed (I will add that I was a bit sickish last night so I headed to bed early), I again talked about the garbage and in importance of taking it to the street.

I just happened to wake up early this morning and as I was considering drifting back to sleep for a little while longer, I happened to think about the garbage. I quickly nudged my husband and asked if he remembered it. "No," was is groggy answer.

That meant I had to jump out of bed and drag the cans (one whose lid was popping off b/c it was so full) to the street. The one with the wonky lid toppled over. When I went to pick it up, I got all grossed out b/c it was leaking and got on me.

So here are my real questions:

1. How does he keep forgetting the same chore every week, even when reminded?

2. Why is it when I forget to do something and then remember, I jump up and do it and when he forgets to do something, I jump up and do that too?

3. Why will I be the one who has to bring in the dumb garbage cans after pickup?

Kenny and Chrissy said...

You know what's really fun? When my husband doesn't listen to me (and it infuriates me), I'll do something equally infuriating to him (such as putting the toliet paper roll on backwards--he HATES that) and then pretend I had no idea that it bugs him. Blahahaha!

GrammaMack said...

Speaking as an older Christian woman, I have to say that it's a bad idea to think of your husband as another kid. It's condescending and controlling and disrespectful. But "Slack," the answer to your questions is because your husband knows that you will do it! Maybe next time remind him on Monday night what night it is and then tell him that you are trusting that he'll do it and handing over the total responsibility from then on. And then do it--and let him deal with the problems if he doesn't.

JH said...


Anonymous said...

You Go GrammaMack!!!!!!

Spoodles said...

You are hilarious! I have to say I'm married to the .1% guy that listens and comprehends and responds accordingly. I'm more of the little kid who doesn't listen... And he is soooo responsible... oh my word... I love that guy... here I am in here on the internet and he's already been to the barn and fed the animals... he's too good to me. *sigh*

Kristina said...

I love how my DH can remember some customers address from 5 years ago, but not what I said 5 minutes ago. I am sure I don't hear at times too but geesh.

Regina said...

I don't think you need to THINK of your husband as another child, just to remember to speak to him that way. having been throught this for years, I get it. Even my kids, who also don't listen, will say, "Dad! Mom just told you that at dinner last night!". I think it's more living in their own little worlds, and not becasue they don't care. At elast that's what I tell myself!

Shellie said...

A very good compilation indeed. Just remember you're not worthless if he doesn't listen. It's just type ADD personality. He can't help himself.
My kids listen, it's just that every thing I say ends up being, "go eat." I say do your homework, they go make a snack. I say clean your room, they run for the ice cream. I say brush your teeth, they pull out the pots and pans and start heating up soup. Then when I say come to dinner, they totally blow me off. I think I need to just draw some pictures.

Angela, DailyMama said...

I heard a speaker once talk about how men think in compartments. A woman's mind can be several places at once, but a man's mind is really better in one place. So, now I say, "Honey, open the Dinner Drawer and lets talk about going out." Or, "Okay, close the Weekend Plans Drawer and open the Mom's Birthday Present Drawer. Your mom's birthday is in 10 days." It sounds nuts, but I think it really helps!

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