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Can you hear me now?

January 20, 2019

Verizon changed their spokesperson recently.  They went with an androgynous person with bed head hair and the stubble-look, and, of course, skinny jeans.  Sorry.  My age is showing.

Their previous spokesperson was (for me) a little less annoying than this new guy (he’s a guy, isn’t he?).  His tag line was always, “Can you hear me now?”  He’s pitching for Sprint now, and they’ve leveraged his previous pitch for their service.  By now, though, that “Can you hear me now?” tag line is ancient history in the advertising world.  It’s out and probably won’t be back.

But the tag line is a question that’s here to stay in the world of relationships.

“Can you hear me now?”

Relationships thrive on communication.

Well, duah.  That must have taken a couple of years of grad school to come up with.

You’re right.  Almost nothing is as fundamental to relationships as communication.  Everybody knows that.  But not everybody knows what that looks like in real life, and way not everybody practices effective communication.

Lots of people fish from only one side of the boat when it comes to communication.  They’re all about the talking side, but have little interest in and little practice with the other side, the listening side.  Ironically, these people rarely feel that they’re understood.  They talk and talk and talk, and then get really frustrated because they still don’t feel understood.  The truth is, their habits and patterns are keeping one of the things they most want (to be understood) from happening.

Habit Number Five of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  The application of this habit can revolutionize nearly any relationship.

Most people instinctively have that turned around, though.  They seek first to be understood (and they seek it hard). Seeking to understand comes way down the line, if it comes into play at all.  They just want to be understood.  Understanding the other person usually doesn’t get much of a place on their priority list for the encounter.  So they talk and talk and talk.  And then sulk and sulk and sulk because even though they’ve explained and explained, the other person (or people) still don’t get it.  If this pattern persists for very long, the affection and energy in a relationship will begin to erode.  So will trust, and that starts a series of falling dominoes nobody wants to get started.  Frustration will grow as fulfillment diminishes.  From here it’s a short walk off the end of the relationship pier.

I’ve spent many hours urging and coaching couples to learn how to turn failing communication patterns around and leverage Covey’s Fifth Habit.  It’s never been easy for any of them.  Everybody’s struggled.  Shoot, it’s never been easy for me!  I’m still trying to get the habit ingrained into my life after starting the effort in 1991!  But everybody who has applied this principle has discovered that frustration and resentment go way down when the people in the relationship feel understood.  Affection grows in the soil of understanding.  When you take your foot off the “understand me” accelerator and replace that energy and effort with seeking to understand, amazing things happen.

All this makes great sense on a theoretical level.  Of course, understanding the other – really understanding them – will nurture love and health in a relationship.  Of course.  I get that.  It’s down on the runway, down here in the application of my everyday life where the rub comes.

There are several things that will get in the way of this kind of healthy and effective communication, but I’ve seen one particular thing do this over and over again.  And virtually no one who does this sees it in themselves at first.  They see it instantly in their spouse or the other person in the relationship, but rarely in themselves.  It’s defensiveness.

There’s a lot to this, but I’ll boil it down to one thought for you to chew on.  I believe it’s impossible for me to truly seek to understand you when I feel compelled to defend myself against accusations (or what I feel are accusations) from you.  The two things are mutually exclusive.  I may justify my defensiveness by saying I’m just trying to explain myself or my actions or the situation.  But when I explain, I’m defending.

It stands to reason that I would so often default to defensiveness.  One of the most powerful instincts God has given us is the instinct for survival.  If you don’t learn how to defend yourself, you won’t survive very long.  What God has given us as a gift – the survival instinct – can often become something of a curse, though.  When I’m trying to defend myself against the wrong things for the wrong reasons at the wrong times, I’ll create problems for me and everybody in my circle.

Here’s my challenge.  Monitor yourself for 3 days.  Just 3 days.  Notice what you do when you’re supposed to be listening.  Are you really seeking to understand, or are you waiting for a chance to tell your side of it?   Are you looking for what the other person is feeling and thinking, or are you just waiting for them to take a breath so you can explain why you did or said what you did or said?

If you really, sincerely try to understand the other person, you have to push away the instinct to defend yourself.  You have to let the strong urge go.  And that is not easy.

If you take my challenge seriously, you’ll find yourself needing to ask if you can start the conversation over because you weren’t listening to understand.  Usually a person will be willing to restart so you can re-calibrate.  Especially if you assure them by your body language and responses that you’re making the effort to really understand them instead of listening so that you can defend your territory.  And the outcome will be health and growth, and even happiness.

But don’t take my word for it.  Try it and let me know what happens.

From → Marriage

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