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Showing posts with label listening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label listening. Show all posts

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Half a Pie is Still Half a Pie and Other Mistakes in Relating

I believe that unless we are a really big jerk to everyone or we are surrounding ourselves with a toxic people who don't like us and/or don't respect us at all, most of the people whom we run across in our lives will try to relate or empathize with us.  They may do it on a sincere desire to empathize, a feeling of duty that they should try, a desire to look thoughtful or a cynical attempt to virtue signal.   Whatever the motivation, I believe people unwittingly make mistakes in trying to do so.

First a few notes:
* Audience = The person you are trying to 'relate' to.
* Speaker = You, the one who is trying to 'relate'.

Let's think about a few scenarios:
  •  I know how you feel or I understand what you are going through.
    • Sometimes people have faced very similar circumstances and can relate or understand, but many times, others simply can't know how we feel until they've actually been in our shoes.  Sometimes, it may be beyond their understanding as well.
    • I believe when said genuinely, it is a statement designed to convey solidarity, but it said the wrong way it can wring hollow or can even be condescending.
      • In other words, you--the speaker--are just trying to hard to stand with them.
      • Sometimes, it is better just to quietly stand by another going through trying or tearful times.
    • It is important to try to understand yourself and your audience when considering saying this.
      • Is there any real possible way you could even remotely know?
      • Have you been through a circumstance even remotely close?
      • How well do you actually know the person you are considering saying this too? 
        • Are you close enough that they know what you mean and/or would take it as a solidarity statement?  
        • Are you just an acquaintance and unsure what your audience is thinking but feel compelled to say something 'appropriate'?
    • I can relate to what you are going through (followed by how).
      • Sometimes you can relate and sometimes you can't.
      • Sometimes your audience just wants to vent or 'cry' and they really aren't looking for your reassurance.  They are just looking for a 'pat on the back', not a 'solution' or 'proof' that you know.
        • There is a time for serious reassurance and there is a time to just nod or say, "I hear you" or just a hug.
          • Maybe your audience does want some reassurance and are open to hearing your situation and how you can make it through tough times.
          • Maybe everything will be alright or one day they may feel better, but at the moment your audience may not feel that way.  Perhaps they still need to mourn a bit more before they get to a point of being open to hearing someone who has been there.
        • There is time to jump in and 'problem solve' and there is a time to let your audience figure out there own path.
          • If your audience asks questions about you and a particular situation--in other words, seeks you out-- obviously, they are open to letting you help them.
          • If your audience rebuffs moderate attempts to relate, then they probably aren't ready for your assistance.
          • Sometimes, as painful as it is, you have to watch your audience make his or her way through their own tough circumstances.
            • People process grief and hurt differently, sometimes they have to figure out their own way or pace.  You can't artificially impose a deadline or a path for another.  You can help, but you can't force it.
            • Trying to hard to shield loved ones from the effects of grief and hurt can keep them from gaining the strength they need for future grief or trauma, when they may not have the same 'help' available.
        • There is a time to relate and there is a time in which relating could seem like minimizing.
          • Age or a similar difference in circumstance could cause a problem in relating.
            • People tend to relate better to their own age/circumstance.   I believe this is especially true when life experience levels are different.
            • Trying to relate could sound like "in my day" or "where I come from" or some similar disconnect.  Even if you can see the parallel on the relatable issue, your audience may not.   Besides, due to difference in personal circumstances, your audience may not be open to seeing the parallel.
          • Perceived expertise or regard could cause a problem in relating.
            • Sometimes if your audience hears the same thing from a 'professional', even if you have the life experience to know the same thing, your audience will tend to respond better to the professional.   That's why counseling is such an in demand profession.
            • If there is a disconnect or block with your audience, you might say the right things, but your audience may perceive it 'not getting me'.   Once again, an outsider such as a counselor or minister or highly regarded family or other leader might be the answer as they could be perceived as being more 'objective'.

I could go on indefinitely about mistakes in relating, but I will finish the main part of my post there.  Why I called the post "Half a Pie is Still Half a Pie..." is this.   I have never had a very close knit family and I barely knew family outside of immediate family.   This at points in my life has left a void.  Let's face it, for worse or for better, family has an outsized influence on our life.   They are our first example and in many cases, strongest example.  They are the ones who are expected to be the most loyal and at least initially whom we seek the strongest validation from.   Anyway, at times, I have mourned not knowing my extended family and not having a close knit family.   I've been told by people a few times in my life that well, that knowing your (extended) family and getting together with family isn't all that it's cracked up to be.   In other words, 'having' family is not all it's cracked up to be.  To me that has felt tone deaf.   I came up with an analogy to express this.   Mainly that "Half a Pie is Still Half a Pie".   That is, yes, your circumstances aren't perfect either.  In other words, your family might have its problems, but they are still a unit and they have some close, albeit, not perfect relationships.  In other words, you have half a pie.  Some people, for all practical purposes they don't have a family (little overall cohesion with any that they do know and most that they never knew).  That would be little or no pie.   So, trying to relate by saying, well family isn't all it is cracked up to be seems 'tone-deaf'.  Their intentions may be well in stating that, but it doesn't feel relatable.  Anyway, this was just an obvious example of where I've seen mistakes in relating.

Just my 1/50th of a $1.  As with all my blog posts, feel free to take that which helps.  I write them in hopes that it helps people either can find someone to relate to and/or sees a perspective which they hadn't necessarily thought of.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Walking in other people's shoes, when they are wearing boots and 'heroism'

When sharing situations or story with others, I've noticed that most of the time people usually are pretty good about listening.  From my experience, when people try to relate, their attempt is usually well meaning,  accepted and appreciated.

However, I've seen and experienced and probably been guilty of one or both of the following sins:
  • Try too hard to relate, especially where it is impossible to relate.
  • Expressing 'my experience' in a way that could be seen as 'one-upping'.
I refer to the first 'sin' as "walking in other people's shoes when they are wearing boots".   The idea being that you might be able to understand or related on some level to what another is saying--walking in their shoes--but that their circumstance is different enough--they are wearing boots instead of their shoes--that you wouldn't be able to get the same feel for their circumstance by just 'walking in their shoes'.

I refer to the second 'sin' as 'heroism' because whether the intention is pure or not, if you are not careful in relating and tell about 'your difficult circumstance', it could be seen as saying to the other person (condescendingly) that 'your problem is bad, but let me tell you about the time when I...".  In other word, "I've had to deal with worse" or "I dealt with it better".  
  • You could be trying to help them 'understand' that their problem 'isn't all that bad' and is 'survivable' based on your experience.  While there MAY be some truth to this, if handled wrong this could effectively dismiss their concern out of hand rather than letting them express it.  Maybe they just need to talk and get it out of their system to realize "you know it really wasn't that big of a deal".  Your motive is pure, but it isn't exactly what is useful to the other party at that time.
  • You could say it out of an impure motive--exasperation, jealousy, etc--and effectively shutting them down and telling them to suck it up.  While this may feel good at the moment when you are frustrated, it doesn't necessarily lead to a great relationship.   I believe when you are getting to this point, 'listen' as much as possible, help where feasible and when it is too much or what you think as ridiculous just tell them, "I wish I could be more helpful" and quietly extract yourself from the situation where possible to not make it worse. 

Having said all that, I realize as a parent that sometimes when a kid is being irrational there are time and a place to not 'humor' their thinking/worry.  There are times and places, when you just have to face their circumstance completely logically, despite a desire not to.  They are times and places also where you have to give them context.   The way I try to handle this is letting them know that their concerns or worry is legitimate and but that in the big scheme of things they are still in a good place. For example, if a kid (or an adult for that matter) says, "my life is horrible" and just refuses to acknowledge that the good they have, point out as bad as things may be there are people in this world who are too busy trying to survive to have the luxury of worrying about what they are.  It isn't to dismiss their worry/concern, but to let them know, let's keep it in perspective.

I look at it this way, I believe my Higher Power, God, hears my prayers and concerns and provided my motives are proper He will address them and not dismiss them.  In other words, while He may not see it as a big deal or big issue, He knows it is to me.  Sometimes addressing my concerns  will not mean trying to 'solving' them, but showing me a different perspective.  In my faith, God, in the form of His Son, has walked in my shoes and he has faced everything we have.  He lets me know that, but He doesn't impose His 'experience' on me, but rather let's me know that he has been there.

Lest it seem like I am saying, do not try to relate, I believe the furthest thing from that.  It is important to relate and try to empathize with others.  But, IMHO, it is also important to remember the limitations of 'relating'.  

  • Sometimes, you are missing key differences that make your situation different enough than theirs as to be not exactly relateable.
  • Sometimes, even if you can relate, sometimes people need to experience a situation as theirs first, regardless, process it, mourn it if necessary.  Only then they may be in a better place to hear that they aren't the only ones to be in that situation/circumstance. 
  • Sometimes, they need a different person, closer to their age or or just an outsider, for example, to relate.  This I believe is hard for parents to accept.
  • Sometimes, they need to hear how you can relate, but they need to hear it at at different time or with a lighter touch such as "I don't know if this helps at all or is anything like..." vs. "I understand". 

I guess the best advice, is to be pure in your motives in listening, attempt to be mindful of what others need and try to give them what you can, understanding that not everyone is open to hearing your words.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Save Yourself Without Drowning Others

Why are there federal, and in most cases, state laws on whom should wear a life-jacket or PFD (personal flotation device) on a moving boat?   I'd venture to guess it's because it is recognized that kids of a certain age are either a) not likely to know how to swim or b) they are likely to weak of a swimmer.  That is they have built up the stamina to swim far or for an extended period should they be required to.  In other words, they are deemed to be a greater drowning risk if the boat takes on water, they fall in the water or they get too far away from the boat.

Absent such a device, our natural instinct is to fight as hard as we can to keep our head high above water (See wikiHow to Prevent Drowning).  Unfortunately, even with the presence of another nearby to help us, the natural instinct is to panic when we feel ourselves going under.  We have to have the presence of mind when an experienced lifeguard is trying to save us from drowning to listen to him or her and not inadvertently pull them down too.  Sounds easy--listen to the experienced pro--but in the heat of the moment when panic starts to set in, we can lose our perspective and flail. 

From what I see, the same can happen in our personal lives.  That is, when we are in the process of 'drowning', fear can take over and we can allow ourselves and others around us to be dragged down by the path we choose.  Instead of taking from our faith, listening to others who are there for us, remembering that we've made it through rough circumstances before and focusing on the things that are going well, we get stuck on path that inevitably is destructive to ourselves and others.

I think most people have a story involving them or someone they know in which someone was stuck on a destructive path and could not get beyond it.  One that hits home for me occurred around at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.  The situation involved my dad.  In hindsight, he'd had symptoms of Parkison's disease for quite a while, but had not been diagnosed with it until earlier in late 2011 or early 2012.  

If I recall correctly, he tried to hide the extent of his health problems until the first time his legs locked up and he fell.  At that point, he couldn't hide that he had a problem and the extent thereof.  As he lived by himself, it quickly become clear that he needed to to have someone available 24/7 to watch over him and/or help him.  My brother and I had been helping him clean around the house, pick up food for him and to take him to places as time permitted us.  But as his fall risk become clearer, it became clear that he'd need someone there all the time or to be somewhere where that would be the case.  As all he'd known for the better part of 40+ years was his house, he wasn't going to move without a fight.  As my brother and I were both single, had full time jobs, I had a child and both of us had other responsibilities, we could do more to help him but we couldn't give him the help he needed and get by.  From what I see, he saw going somewhere that he'd have 24/7 access to help as 'drowning', but he couldn't afford for long the care he needed at home.   So, he came up with a 'solution', he'd give each of us a little stipend in return for staying by his side.  There was no way we could do this and effectively get by.  But in his now more cloudy mind, that was an option.  In short, in his mind, he was drowning.  So, he was doing whatever he could to keep himself afloat, even risking dragging under the ones that were trying to help him.  I realize at the time and even more so now that he wasn't in a good place, but it still was tough saying no to someone who'd be a strong figure in our lives.

This story led me to consider how we affect others around us, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't trying to hurt his kids, but was becoming increasingly confused and afraid.  He had talked for a number of year of getting rid of his house and moving somewhere which he didn't have to do as much.  We were on board with that, but he never took the steps to put that in place.  He never made provisions for anything really.  In short, he'd been swimming in life's waters for a long time and didn't plan for what would happen if he became too tired to swim.   

I believe if we've lived long enough, most people have a story of wittingly or unwittingly putting someone in a bad spot or someone else putting us in a bad spot.  So, how do we save ourselves without drowning others?

How to save yourself without drowning others
  • Plan for the day in which you can't do it by yourself so you don't put the ones you love in an impossible situation.  That doesn't mean don't leave a place for them to help, but don't put them in a situation that is impossible for everyone.
    • Consider the future realistically.
    • Don't leave yourself dependent on needing things to turn out perfectly, because chances are they won't.
  • Listen to your loved ones and don't dismiss their concerns for you  If they've truly been loyal to you, chances are they are looking out for you.  In other words, take their concerns into account.
    • This can involve health and safety concerns.
    • This can involve addiction concerns--to the point of accepting an intervention.
    • This can involve concerns for other negative influences in your life.
  • Learn to lean into your Higher Power (God) and faith.  If you develop a healthy relationship with your Higher Power and/or work on your faith, fear stands less of a chance to totally consume you should disaster or bad circumstances strike.  If we stop to think, we can usually find a time or two in which He was there watching out for us.
  •  When ones you can reasonably trust offer to help and you could really use it, consider taking them up on it.  Better to swallow a little pride and accept the help now than wait until the situation or circumstances have spun out of control--risking the well-being of yourself and possibly others at that point.

(For no apparent reason, except that I like this song).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cats as BFFs

My cat Simon is starting to get up there in years.  He's working on 12 years old and I guess a part of me realizes that he won't be around forever.  Anyway, I usually write serious blog posts, but I felt it was the right time for a lighter one.  

When you hear the phrase "man's best friend", usually the mental picture of a dog comes to mind, but I contend that cats can be like a best friend of sorts too.  Everyone's experience may differ, but I've come to appreciate my Simon (aka Simie).  I call him my "crazy Asian" as he is Siamese; he probably calls me a his "crazy American".  Anyway, I will list some things about him that I know make him a BFF.

  • Whatever else he does gravitates towards me when I go to bed.  No he might get up and want to leave the room and then come back, but you know at the end of the day, I can count on a visit from my cat BFF.  When I was having problems with my now ex, he would always end up with me at the end of the night and not her.  That's loyalty.
  • When I am sad or not feeling well, he tends to gravitate towards me.  I am vain enough to think it is because he likes me and maybe the silly cat does, but it could be because I humor and/or feed him.  He won't necessarily admit it, but he thinks I'm an alright cat owner.
  • When I call him by name, he turns and faces me.  When I'm talking, he tends to look intently at me and listen.  I don't always know what he is thinking.  Perhaps he likes the "fatherly" voice. Perhaps he sees me as his pet as well.  I dunno, but its flattering to know that I can always count on him to listen.
  • He makes sure to wake me up for work--when he's hungry (and not always nicely).  But he makes an excellent alarm.
  • We talk.  Sometimes it is just a nonverbal watching each other.  Sometimes it is me calling him and him meowing.  Either way, it's nice to hear from or see my fuzzball friend.
  • He makes a nice stuffed animal that purrs.  Even grownups sometimes need that positive feedback.
  • He abuses me at times and I abuse him.  Now nothing says a healthy friendship like mutually abusive behavior.  ^..^
  • He is the one constant that I could count on for the past 12 years.  That means something.  Having a friend around to greet you at some point every days is kind of cool.
  • He is funny.  He schemes to steal food.  He took a blueberry muffin from my teenage stepdaughter.  She hadn't sized him up yet, but he'd sized her up and figured the muffin was his.  I had to laugh at his devious intuitive genius.  He's had numerous misadventures like that.  A BFF will be someone who makes you laugh.
Cats may not wag their tale at you waiting to be petted, may not retrieve a ball that you throw them or may not always obey your commands, but that doesn't make them less of a friend.  It just makes them different (and in some ways more honest a friend).

I know he can't read, but if I he could I'd want him to know I wouldn't trade my furry best friend for anything.  I'd rather have his honest (and occasionally abusive) behavior than straight obedience.  
- Rich (aka Simon's Person)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Listening: How not to shoot first and apologize later

The events in the world recently and from what I've seen in interactions in my own life and the lives of those around me over time have served to remind that it is not only things like cooking that are a lost art society, but LISTENING is also a lost art.  Listening doesn't always mean listening to spoken words, but also to cues as well, but I digress.  I know I have been guilty of one or more of these at times, so I am not speaking from a position of holier than thou, but passing off what I've felt, seen and learned or come to understand. They sometimes refer to this desire as ESH or "Experience, Strength & Hope" in step programs.  Anyway, I came up with the title of this blog based off words from "Everything Falls Apart" by Dog's Eye View.  It occurred to me that often times listening effectively can prevent immediate misunderstandings and confrontations which later require apologizing for flying off the handle.

But back to listening.  We can recite most of the words that another says, but does that mean we are actually listening to them?  Listening means more than just hearing, it means taking an effort to consider what the other party is saying.  Anyone can repeat by rote, but not everyone takes time to consider the words/intent of the speaker.  From my perspective there are a number of things that get in the way of effective listening, not necessarily in any order:
  • Being too focused on other things while 'listening'
    • Being focused on something outside of the speaker.
      • Your bad day at the work.
      • Your bad interaction with a family, friend, police, etc.
      • A future event/situation/consideration. 
      • Things that grab your attention: TV, music.
    • Trying to come up with a response while the speaker is still talking.
      • Eagerly finishing their thought, rather than allowing them to express it.
        • Is a way of telling them the speaker that you are finished listening.
        • Can be a way stealing their thunder aka stealing the floor from them.
        • Results in the wrongly predicting what the speaker will say.
        • Can be a way of defending yourself or your position before the speaker has given you a reason too.  (Defensive listening)
      • Letting them 'finish' but then immediately go into response mode.
        • Is a way of telling them, you are worried more about your response than their words. In other words, wanting to 'sound good.'
        • Can be a way of expressing defensiveness.  Something may have triggered you and instead of asking for clarification or thinking through what they said, you jump into 'defensive response' mode.  (Defensive listening)
        • Can be a way of condescendingly checking off the "I listened" box when you really didn't.

Now from my perspective, you can be a good listener if:

  • Hear out your speaker.  Giving him/her time to make his/her points effectively and consider what they are meaning. 
  • Focus on what they are saying and not just being able to recite their words.
  • Ask for clarification when the opportunity presents itself, but not before the speaker has had a chance to elaborate.
  • Focus on what they are saying, rather than just formulating a response.
  • Ask intelligent and respectful questions and limit asking the speaker to repeat his or herself.
  • Put the ideas of the speaker in motion where it makes sense to.
    • Where it is feasible.  Sometimes the ideas are an ideal or a goal, not something to immediately reach.
    • Benefit one or more parties: preferably the listener, the speaker and the subject(s) of the speaker.
    • Where it can advance the relationship.  Can show the speaker that you really listened and gave consideration of their thoughts and feelings.

This focus on how to listen wouldn't be complete IF we don't take time to actually focus on the speaker as well.  A speaker can be a poor 'listener' as well.  A speaker can be a poor listener if he or she:
  • Doesn't pause to let his or her audience take a moment to digest what they've heard.
    • Avoiding proper pauses can cause the audience to get overwhelmed.
    • Assumes that the audience can follow his/her line of thought at the same speed the speaker does.
  • Doesn't effectively read the cues of his audience.
    • Shows the speaker is more interested in his/her words then reaching the audience.
    • Shows inflexibility on the part of the speaker.  Cannot adjust to audience needs, potentially missing a great opportunity to reach them.
    • Can result in the speaker talking down to, talking past or talking over the head of the audience.
    • Can lose his/her audience to tears if he or she is ignoring what the audience is 'saying'.
  • Makes the discussion/speech all about him/her. 
    • Shows the audience that they are just a backdrop vs. being a integral part of the discussion or speech.
    • Is contrary to relating to the audience.  In relating:
      • They say their piece, but then step out of the way of the point being made, rather than to continue to point out their role.
      • They focus on the takeaway and what they've learned, rather than their own personal importance in the matter.
Whether it's an informal conversation, a group or panel discussion, a give and take session, an interview or speech to a audience, knowing how to listen is crucial in advancing the conversation, the idea and/or the relationship.  Focusing on being a good listener can help to avoid misunderstandings and confrontations and can promote better relationship, personal or otherwise. It can also prevent a person from sounding foolish in response (as if you respond to what you heard rather than what was said, you can sound like a fool).  Showing disregard as a listener can lead to misunderstandings--shoot first, apologize later, confrontations and lead to either a halting of progress if not destruction of a relationship--personal or otherwise.

As a final aside, just like most things in life their are exceptions in more understanding of 'listening'.  

  • When you interview for a job, position or role, you have to make yourself the subject of your words, ideas, relating.  You are not only advancing your ideas, but also yourself as the messenger or implementer of the ideas.
  • When the other party or parties steal the oxygen and don't give you space to absorb what they are saying or to respond, you have to assertively (and unfortunately perhaps 'rudely') grab control of the floor.
  • When time is critical (as in an emergency) and you need to act fast, sometimes you have to take what the speaker said and run with it, even if they aren't quite finished.  
  • Sometimes when the speaker is totally out of focus and there is an opportunity, it can be useful to 'interrupt' them to get them on point.