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How listening helps us solve our problems
November 15, 1999
1:50 pm
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ktb
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I'm trying to develop a better understanding
of just how important listening, both to the verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication affects the process.

November 15, 1999
3:21 pm
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Snow
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I have a book that I've ordered called "Never Be Lied to Again". It's about how to read body language. I think body language is as important to listen to as the verbal aspect. Not only do I want to learn about how to read other peoples body language but I want to learn about what signals I'm sending out.

November 16, 1999
12:45 pm
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Cici
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You know how sometimes when you're arguing with soemone, and it really is gettin nowhere, you can stop and look at the person and realize they aren't listening to you, just waiting for you to shut up so they can keep going with their monologue on how much you hurt them?

November 16, 1999
10:59 pm
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ktb
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I would agree with you Snow, and almost exxagerate your point that body language may be more imporant than the verbal aspect. All to often I find myself talking to seomeon who acts interested but when I take a look at how they are standing or how their eye contact is fluttering in every which direction, that the words are part of a script they've spoken a million and one times, but body language can never lie.

November 16, 1999
11:00 pm
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ktb
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I also agree with you Cici. Sometimes people aren't looking for an argument, all they want if for you to listen to their "monologue of complaints" as you called it. But what I'm interested in is how do we determine those moments when someone isn't interested in a conversation they are simply looking for "sounding board"?

November 17, 1999
1:10 pm
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eve
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I think listening - without judging what you hear immediately - is something very difficult but vital to the understanding of a communication, because it can help to sort things out.

Whith people who don't know each other well it's fairly easy, - it's either exchange of the information they talk about, or exchange of information about their social status/hierarchy to establish positions for further negotiations. This can be extremly irritating, when one of the people involved is trying to give information, while the other person is trying to receive information about other things (do you accept me socially, will I be able to join the team, you'd better accept that I know better anyway because I'm the boss and so on).

What is really difficult to sort out for me, is communications with people I know very well (relatives, partner). Because we know each other, we have all kinds of expectations, previous missunderstandings, hidden or open feelings. So each side can say quite simple everyday things and trigger a cascade of reactions that sometimes come unexpected and lead to problems or missunderstandings.
For example (it happend this weekend and it wasn't funny while it happened): My grandmother tells me: "Could you please tell your father (her son) that my light in the guest room does not work". My answer: "let's see, the light bulb is dead, I'll go get a new one and change it" (thinking: I can do that, no need to bother my father, he is taking care of granny all the time, so when I'm there for the weekend I could as well help). So I go downstairs and ask my father "where can I find a new light bulb, I'm shure you have them somewhere, granny needs one." My father gets extremely angry. Why? Nothing was said, to justify that reaction or was it?
When he had calmed down again (hours later!) he explained:
What he heard was: "Grandmother asks Eve to help her with something I would gladly have done for her, so Eve must think that I don't care for granny properly, and that's not true. It's not fair of her to complain when I do everything I can. She gives me the feeling that I can never do enough."
What grandma (she has a lot of age related health trouble and sometimes depressions, so she has a lot of problems, but so have my parents with her) meant was: "I know that my son is doing so much for me, and that makes me feel bad, because I won't be able to do anything for him. So why not tell Eve and see if she will sort it out (she never asks for anything directly, rather gives hints and if you don't get the idea she is obviously dissapointed)."
So there was quite a lot of communication going on, that would have left somebody who is not part of our family wondering (or thinking that we are all crazy). And listening without judging helped me, because this way I didn't react emotionally and blame my father for getting angry with me, but could understand what it was about - and it was not about me.
So. Anybody who made it so far through this long mail: some of this different levels of understanding a communication can be found in a book by Deborah Tannen (the german title was "Du kannst mich einfach nicht verstehen", so it must be something like "you won't understand me"), but I think this book is not really good, because it remains on the surface.
Does anybody know a good book about people who are caretaking (for their elderly parents) and how to cope?

Eve

November 17, 1999
10:24 pm
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ktb
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Eve I might be going out on a limb here, but I don't think it's exactly that you don't know how to listen to what your family is trying to say, but rather you don't know how to cope with the changes your family might be going through.

Your example about your father was interesting, especially when you talked about the two of you talking about the situation. Was that an analysis you came to terms with or was that something your father and you actually discussed? What I'm trying to say is that often after I've taken part in a conversation, I think back to all the components of it, what was being said indirectly, the body language the person I spoke to exhibited, and the parts that played up to it and took place shortly after it. I can often come to the conclusion you came to, in your case your father's anger towards be labeled inadequate to take care of his mother, but I wonder if you actually discussed it.

And this is what I'm trying to get at with the whole listening process. Is it a compilation of events that while under review, the meaning what was once opaque becomes crystal clear or is it only through conversation, metacommunication (talking about what we talk about) that we can come to these epihanies?

November 18, 1999
11:42 am
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eve
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ktb,
yes we do discuss it. This is an old habit and we (my father, my sisters and I) had a lot of training the hard way 20 years ago, when he was trying to marry again and his 3 teenage daughters were givimg him and every one of his woman friends a very hard time. At this time we had to establish a method of discussion because otherwise the emotional stress for all of us would have been too much. I think it helped me then, that we had to put all the emotions (teenage, desperation, rebellion agaist parents, together with all the emotions about him remarrying) in very clear words to get them though to my father, because he is not very good at coping with big emotions. So first we would have a big row, with shouting, crying etc. but afterwards we would try together to find out what happened and why, ad how we could avoid it next time. And we got quite good at it and the rows got less emotional and more to the point.

To the second part of your question: Does one have to discuss the communication in order to understand it? I think that the answer depends on the situation: Do you just want to understand for yourself, or do you want the others to understand, too. If it's just for you, I think a mixture of doing it alone and discussing it, helps to develop the skill. I try to do it this way: I listen, I "evaluate" what I think/feel about it and mostly that's it. But in situations where I feel that my "evaluation" is getting me nowhere or something doesn't quite fit I try to find out more from the other person, or even from somebody else I ask about it. At least that's the plan. Sometimes I just react, without listening, without thinking and later I have to sort it out (for myself and for my relation to the communication partner).

And If you really want everybody to agree afterwards about what happened during a short communication, I think that's quite a big project.
But keep trying, it may be worth it. Eve

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