Just Listen to me!

At a recent training I attended, the class had an opportunity to sit on the floor and engage in an impromptu conversation with the instructor which had nothing to do with the course material we had been working on.  We discussed many topics including a training course that some of the women had attended.  I forget the name, but it centered on how to deal with your man and be a more compassionate woman.  Some of the ideas and tips they discussed made me really angry.  You see, I was in a place that I had  come to believe that my husband was out to get me, that I could never be right, that he was much more intelligent than me, and that I never had a chance at an intellectual conversation,  much less a win. 

One of the techniques they were taught at this conference was to Stop wait 30 seconds before you say anything when you are in a conversation with a man.  It was kind of funny because what was said made no sense and seemed almost impossible to me.  I couldn’t imagine sitting quiet for that long…I am a natural born talker.   But what was suggested was when you are having a conversation with any man. After they say the last word say nothing and count to 30 in your head. Guaranteed during that time the quiet will become so uncomfortable they won’t be able to stand it and that they will start talking again to break the silence. Once they stop again, start counting again. It seemed impossible because I knew I couldn’t say nothing for that long…and my husband could go on forever …he loves to talk and I knew this would be torture for me!  I was constantly fighting to get the last word in, or any word in for that matter…

But I thought to myself, this could be kind of funny so I decided to give it a try on my phone call that night with my husband.  The previous night’s phone calls had served to send me into the classroom the following days in tears because I would be so worked up over a fight that we had or something he said that I allowed to hurt my feelings.  But this night, Chris would talk and when he would finish I would start to count to 30. 

I didn’t say anything, he laughed. (I thought this was kind of cool.) What are you doing?  He asked.  Just listening, I said.  “REALLY!”  He didn’t know what to say.  He started talking again…when he finished I would count (to myself) and he would continue talking.

 This went on for quite a while.  Eventually, new topics started to come up…opinions, emotions, feelings I hadn’t heard before.  I had yet to say anything in this conversation.   I noticed quickly that his tone grew softer as he talked…perhaps because he wasn’t feeling he had to defend himself?  It wasn’t the usual you did this and I hate that…that was our regular game…but more “I feel this and I would appreciate that.”  It was truly inspiring.  I realized there was something to this…

That weekend when I arrived home from my training, we went through our usual “tackle mom at the waist” reunion…but something seemed off with my youngest, Alex.

I walked into his room to find out what was up and he immediately went into melt down mode.  He began screaming & yelling, “You’re the worst mother ever and I hate you”!  In the past I would have probably barked at him something like.  “How dare you be so nasty to me after I’ve been away from you for so long!  It’s not ok to treat me this way!  You can stay here in your room until you calm down!” 

But the new, enlightened me had a better idea…I would get down on his level and just listen to him and count.  After each outburst ended,  I would say nothing and count in my head 1-2-3…” what are you doing?” He yelled.   “I’m listening to you” I replied…he giggled…he didn’t say anything.  I counted…His shoulders dropped and his face lightened. 

“You’re really listening to me?”

Yes Alex, why wouldn’t I listen to you?

“Because no one ever listens to me.” 

My heart broke.  I realized in a moment that all those years of screaming and temper tantrums were simply because little Alex, the smallest of 4 in our household, the baby, who was carried until 14 months old, was screaming because he was the one who was often NEVER heard.  He didn’t have an opinion, because babies don’t.  Normally what he said was childish and immature so his brother & his friends dismissed him…my husband and I had much more intellectual discussions…who would do the dishes, laundry, drive the kids to school, what’s for dinner…we didn’t have time to listen to Alex’s opinion…so he began to yell and scream to be the voice heard above the crowd. 

At that point a dynamic shift was made in our family.  We agreed that we wouldn’t interrupt, we would take turns.  We wouldn’t wait 30 seconds, but we would count to three. We would give each person equal time to talk.  Some families use a talking stick, I think that could be kind of fun…but would quickly become a joke for my guys…so instead,  we set a deal, to count to 3, take turns, to respect each other’s opinions and allow them to be heard.

We have been using this practice for nearly a year now.  People that know us can’t believe the difference in the way we talk to each other.  It’s actually become easier to be around my family!  Alex doesn’t yell anymore because if he starts to get fired up…we simply say to him, “Alex, you know I care about what you have to say and you will have your turn…hold onto your thoughts until I’m done and we will hear you.”  Sometimes all it takes is simply “Max is talking right now.” Or “let me finish my thought please.”  One of my favorite moments was hearing Alex tell Chris “Daddy, could you hold that thought for a minute please.” When Chris tried to interrupt a very important and detailed description of music class!   But no matter how you slice it, if there is too much yelling going on, maybe it’s time to look at the person doing most of the yelling…and just listen to them.

This week, take turns using respectful communication (count to 3 in your head after someone’s last word before you begin to speak.)  If someone interrupts you, patiently remind them that “we do not interrupt” and ask them to allow you to finish your statement before they talk.  In the beginning, it may be necessary to remind them that they will have a turn to talk and you will listen to them until they are finished…the most important key here is to follow through and hold up your agreement.  

Have a playful day!

This article is the second in a series of “Stop Raising Einstein” articles which are taken from the book of the same title published in November, 2009 .