“You’re Not Listening to Me!”   4 comments

Yesterday Kimberly and I were walking the dogs in our neighborhood.  My brain was stuffed with thoughts that were spilling out everywhere. (This is not as common as you might think since I’m an internal processor.)  Towards the end of my rambling monologue I commented that I was slowly coming to realize people are not very logical.  She responded, “That’s what everybody thinks.  Everybody believes their arguments are more rational than everyone else’s.”  With that short exchange our conversation slid into the ditch.  It is our most familiar, but still unavoidable, conversational pile-up.  We don’t see it coming, we don’t know how to avoid it, and once we’re off the shoulder, we don’t know how to recover.  The best we can manage so far is an autopsy after the talk has crashed and the dust settled.

In short, we each hear the other stating an absolute position that leaves no room for our own perspective.  In this case she heard me saying that I was smarter than everyone else and I heard her saying that everyone is equally logical.  My approach is to try to make some room for my view, in essence saying, “Will you give me this half of the room?  This end?  This little corner?”  It seems to me that I am negotiating for space for my viewpoint, smaller footage with each argument I propose, and after the third or fourth try, I give up, growing silent.  There is not even a cubbyhole in her outlook for my perspective (in this case, that logic is important but underused).  She, of course, hears something entirely different.  For her, every time I give a reason for my view, I am demanding her total capitulation.  It seems to both of us that the other one refuses to yield an inch.  On this occasion I tried to assert, “Logic is very important… logic is kind of important.. logic has some small role to play,” but each time, she hears me giving one more argument for why logic is king and I am his chief officer.

When the topic is minor, we just let it go.  It’s not worth the trouble to sort out.  But when it is a personal issue, touches a core value, or has significant practical implications, we are  too emotionally invested to welcome the opposing viewpoint.  So this conflict pattern that needs a clear-eyed examination arises when the fog is thickest.  Initially we don’t recognize it, but the deeper into the conversation we push, the more emotionally invested we become, so that ironically, the more obvious the situation grows the less possible it becomes to resolve it.

All our standard relational conflicts take this path of growth.  We start to recognize the pattern in hindsight and discuss it.  Then we begin to realize when we are in the middle of it, but we still can’t figure out a solution.  Then we take some baby steps that slowly grow more helpful.  After falling in the same ditch hundreds of times, we find a way to sometimes avoid the ditch, slowly becoming more adept.  We’re still at step one on this particular dynamic.  But we’ll figure it out.  We always do.


Posted October 24, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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4 responses to ““You’re Not Listening to Me!”

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  1. Thank you both for sharing this. The vulnerability to share so openly takes courage that (I think) not many have. Your description reminds me very much of the “crazy cycle” that Emerson’s book, Love And Respect speaks to. I’m in the process of reading it, and it’s helping me to try to learn to avoid the “crazy cycle”. Maybe you’ve read it, but if not, it might interest you. Thanks again for sharing. I always am encouraged and glean a lot from your posts. -Marcella

    • Thanks for commenting, Marcella. My blog posts feel like my side of a conversation, so something feels incomplete until I get feedback. There is something very encouraging about hearing that others share our experience. I’m grateful that Kimberly is willing for me to share our personal life in this way–she is a more private person than I, so it is a greater risk on her part.

  2. Wow! thanks for articulating what I have experienced, so I can now see with more clarity. The illustration of sliding into the ditch is so vivid! I think it will help me now, as I may have opportunity to consciously think “I don’t want this conversation to result in us ending up in the ditch!”-your honest sharing will help me pause, and be intentional about choosing to be a “steward of grace”. After 35 years, we perhaps don’t end up there as often as before.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Doris. I’m glad my words helped clarify some things for you. I agree with you that if we can identify the dynamic, it helps to work through a conflict. Relational dynamics are sort of the background context rather than the obvious content of our discussion, but often that context of the communication is more important than the content. Just as folks say, “That is the liquor talking,” we could say, “That is the fear or anger talking.” I am often unaware of the dynamic (like a fish is unaware of water), but it can distort and undermine the whole interaction. If I can stop and consider, as you say, take my eyes off the topic and consider rather the dynamic, even identify it for both of us right there in the middle of the conversation, it would go a long way toward diffusing the conflict. Thanks again for sharing.

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