Listen Up!

November 30, 2006 at 12:49 PM (Communication, Friends, Listening)

how to recognize that you’re being a jackass, sometimes.

If you’re one of those persons who A. Likes a healthy percentage of things about themselves, and B. Has a tough-to-wrangle tendency of being highly verbal…chances are, in your communication life you’ve let some things speed out of your mouth before your brain got a chance to filter them…and those things can be so painful sometimes as to nearly cost you friendships.

First, I learned to listen as a part of working in call center customer service. It is a conscious effort that I applied liberally in my nine to five career. Seventy five percent of the time that I wanted to say something, I didn’t. The customers grew quite fond of this approach and got pissed about 50% less. Once I figured out what I was doing, I realized I had to apply it socially too. I made it my business to learn a bit more about listening. On purpose, as a project. I still run through conversations, but I am self aware now, and try to put the brakes on every now and again. There are at least two times in a given conversation when I stop and say “What’s up with you?” not as some pat question, but in a genuine realization that hey, you won’t find out the goodies in your friends lives that you *most want to hear* if you don’t fer gossake shut your mouth and hand them the floor!

And, on a related theme: How to save a friendship if you’ve just said something mind blowingly bothersome or uncomfortable or even stupid to the friend you’re chatting with, and *you don’t know it yet!*

We only really “know” our own dealbreakers for civilized discourse, I think.

If we know someone, I’ve found out over the years that that *doesn’t* mean we will know enough, be discerning enough about an individual’s emotional cues about what is said, or how what’s said is percieved to *know* when we’ve crossed some line, for that other person, and be quick enough to do damage control if the lines of communication are important.

I sucked at this for a good long while, not with everybody I know. But I learned a couple of strategies from my mistakes. When I’ve unintentionally hurt someone I ask them to give me a map of the recent conversation, to show me from *their side* where it went off the rails…If that’s ok by them, *these days* I can usually 1. Grasp their reasons for being hurt and 2. Attempt some damage control without losing my grip on what’s important to me.

If they’re too pissed off to give me the roadmap, I generally have to, for my own sanity, explain that I’m not a mindreader. Then, they get madder for a moment and say “Of *course* I’m not expecting you to be a mind reader….” and then I ask…”but you expect me to know why you’re mad without you having to elaborate, right?” Grudging acceptance of that occurs and it’s either the end of the connection or the beginning of some reweaving…

And some people just get incendiary in such a way that you see no cues being given that an explosion is about to occur…doesn’t mean they don’t have ‘tells.’ You just missed them, and it’s not a fault…their ‘tells’ are set up differently than the ones you’re used to, or subtler, or not detectable through the guessing game tone of an internet-only communication. That’s happened to me more than once, and feels damned peculiar, as if you were about to bite into an ice cream cone and tasted unfettered habanero peppers instead.

I can think of two people, one from college and a really good recent female friend that wanted to resolve their anger/difference/uncomfortableness with me by simply dropping out of sight. They wanted to go into a corner and lick their wounds and never speak with me again, and I had no idea why…still don’t. I would genuinely try to make amends if either one approached me, but neither has done so in years and so I’ve just had to hang that hurt up, that idea that I’m just too difficult to be in their clean and sparkly universes…and say, okay, I hope they’re happy and I wish them well…the end.

I’m still hurt, but there’s nothing on God’s earth I can do that will make either of them write/email/call me.And, over the net is harder because you *don’t* get eye contact,body language, tone…

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