How often does your partner deck you for ignoring what he or she proposes only to hear you say “Great idea!” to friends when they suggest the very same things? To diffuse the situation when it occurs at our house, we generally laugh, shrug, and say: “Nobody ever listens to a spouse!”
I’m actually surprised it doesn’t happen more often. In a world in which information is thrown at us 24/7, we tune out a lot, in part for self protection. Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt Psychology, said: “The rhythm of life is ‘contact and withdraw.’” We come out of our shells and engage with the world—then retreat for needed relief—back and forth in a never-ending cycle. To be fully engaged every minute of the day, listening and critically digesting everything we hear, would drive us crazy. We need down time, escape time—time to tune in to ourselves … or to nothing at all. When we nurture ourselves by taking time to retreat, we become replenished and are ready to fully engage once more.
People love to be listened to, paid attention to—recognized and validated, knowing they’ve been heard. In fact, the sense of being known by our partners can be far more profound than the sense of being loved. If, knowing us to our core, partners still stick around, love is implied. Love can be trusted when it’s based on knowing us fully.
Employees thrive on being listened to as well. When supervisors take the time to meet and engage with employees, listening to their concerns and responding appropriately, ties are deepened that strengthen the organization as a whole.
As for children, they demand to be listened to, tugging at our legs while we do the dishes, standing in front of the TV while we weave our heads trying to see around them. When we set aside time to sit and play with our kids, listening as they tell us every detail of their day, we let them know they’re important and worthy of our time. Time is the most precious resource we have. Kids figure that out shortly after they’re born. When we spend time with our kids—one kid at a time—making each feel he/she’s at the center of our universe, we’re building loving relationships that last a lifetime.
From the time my kids were really young, my wife and I would leave them with baby sitters on Friday and Saturday nights. Those were “date nights,” designed to rekindle our passion at the end of hectic weeks. It was then that we’d listen—truly listen to each other like we did when we first began to date. It also gave the kids a chance to be paid attention to by people who were fresh, after being away from them for a week, and excited about spending time with them.
Whenever a new babysitter was brought into the mix, I’d ask the kids the following day if she was a keeper. Nearly always the answer was “Yes!” But occasionally I’d hear “No.” When the response was “No,” I’d never ask why. I’d simply say: “Thanks for letting me know. I won’t have her back. Hopefully, you’ll like the next one better.”
If I had asked why, they would have had to justify their “No.” By not asking, I was telling them I was listening, I’d heard them, I trusted their judgment, and I’d make the necessary change. They never saw the “No” babysitters again.