Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me
“…I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’. Only the echoes of my mind.”
For many of us, this song lyric is far more true than we’d like to admit.
It’s not because we’re shallow or uncaring. Well, most of us, anyway. What we are is distracted, defensive, and, ultimately, disconnected. It keeps us from being fully present in most of the conversations we have. It keeps from hearing what the other person actually said. Worst of all, it puts a wedge between us and those most important to us: partners, family, friends, and professional peers.
Distraction: your child is trying to tell you about something really exciting that happened at school, but you’re trying to get dinner on the table and thinking about a presentation you have to give tomorrow at work. So you hear something approximately like, “…so then Keisha said blah blah blah and I tried to blah blah blah but Mrs. Rothstein told us we had to blah blah blah and it made us feel really blah blah blah….”
Results: you didn’t just miss what your kid was saying, you missed an opportunity to learn something, to see some of the treasure unique to her glinting inside her. You could have either taken a breath and taken a moment to sit down and actively listen, or you could have acknowledged that it wasn’t a good time to talk: “Honey, I really want to be able to hear what you’re saying, but I’m getting dinner ready right now. How about if you set the table, and we talk about this while we eat?”
Distraction can result in missing key pieces of information, both minor (the party is this Saturday, not next) and major (your husband is having an affair, not telling you about a fair). You aren’t home, and you’re not fooling anybody. This is a lose-lose situation.
Defensiveness: projecting your own thoughts and fears onto another is the basis for the classic he said/she heard phenomenon, and it doesn’t just occur between couples. Your boss says the fourth quarter projections look pretty grim; you hear that you won’t be getting an end-of-the-year bonus. Your partner says it’s been a horrible day; you hear that you’re supposed to fix it. Your friend says she’s really been having fun with the new neighbor; you hear you’re being replaced as her BFF.
Results: none of the people above communicated anything beyond the words they actually said, but you’ve taken the ball and run with it to a conclusion they may really not have intended–with all the attendant hurt feelings and frustrations that come with misunderstandings. Without more information, you can’t actually know the intent behind another’s words. When in doubt, ask for clarification.
Disconnection: we’re disconnected when instead of hearing what the other person is saying, we’re making assumptions, leaping to conclusions, and, all too often, mentally rehearsing our rebuttal. It’s not really listening at all; it’s more like tapping your foot and watching for the other person’s mouth to stop moving so you know when it’s your turn to talk again.
Results: when one person in a conversation isn’t really listening, the other person feels misunderstood, devalued, and frustrated. If both of you go down this road simultaneously, the result is usually a verbal duel that escalates in intensity and volume. Eventually, somebody’s gonna get hurt.
Most of us would like to believe we’re pretty good communicators—it’s the other people who are the problem, right? But the truth is, most of us were never taught how to speak our truths so that others can hear them, and how to listen without mental filters, fear, and judgment.
So if it feels like everybody’s talkin’ at you, consider changing the dynamic. Learn how to talk to people, not at them. Learn how not just to listen,but to hear and understand.
It’ll change every interaction you have with every person you meet. But only for the rest of your life.