By Dr. Marta Adelsman
Life Coach in Communication and Consciousness
(March 28, 2018)
Imagine yourself participating in a normal conversation with the exception that you and your conversation partner both speak at the same time. In one of my workshops, I lead participants through a brief exercise in which they pair up, and for 30 seconds, they speak at the same time about their morning routine. At the end of the exercise, no one can report hearing more than a word or two of what their partner said.
In conversations, our mind-noise has the same effect as if we were speaking out loud while someone else is talking. People attempt to speak into our assumptions, opinions, and made up stuff, and we speak into theirs. No wonder we don’t hear each other!
We get into relational trouble when we believe that our assumptions and opinions represent the truth. For instance, our mind perceives that our conversation partner has flung a critical remark at us, so we begin to formulate a defensive response. Maybe we assume the person talking to us is boring, so we allow our mind to plan tonight’s menu or our weekend activities. Perhaps someone tells a story that reminds us of a story of our own, so we plan how we will tell our story.
In all of these cases, we have stopped listening.
Not only does our mind chatter have us stop listening; it also leads to misunderstandings in which anger, defensiveness, fear and anxiety arise. It provides the ego with opportunities to make judgments, to pity someone, or perhaps to play the victim. Harsh words may fly, which can then lead to more made-up stuff. Can you see how making assumptions leads to personal suffering?
Good news—there’s a way out! Here are three steps to take to leave the suffering behind:
1) Become suspicious – very suspicious – of all your assumptions. Identify them, and then question them like mercilessly!
2) Check out with others whether or not your assumed opinions are true. “I’m making up that you meant to criticize me when you said that. Is that true? Am I reading it right?” To know what others really meant, you must hear it from their own lips.
3) Ask questions for clarification. If someone accuses you of being negligent, for example, instead of becoming defensive, you can ask, “What’s your definition of the word ‘negligent?’” If you keep asking questions like this, you can reach complete clarity about what the other person meant. It’s wise to save your response until you’re absolutely clear about what he or she really means.
These steps open us to true listening. Others will feel truly heard. Free from assumptions, relational drama and upsets will drop away.