Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Recover When You Haven't Been Listening

Does this ever happen to you?

You're chatting with a good friend when something she says reminds you that you have to tell her about running into an old co-worker, which reminds you of your last trip to the grocery store, which reminds you that you have to remember to get butter this week, which reminds you that you need to make a plan for eating more healthfully, which reminds you that you wanted to look up some recipes for tofu, which reminds you that you still need to finish reading that article about....oops! You've totally missed what your friend has been saying and you're lost.

Yeah, it happens to me, too. More than I'd like to admit. So... do you ever try faking it?

You know, you nod and give a meaningful, "I hear ya!" or "Wow." Or just repeat the last couple of words she said (" lettuce") hoping she'll just pick up and continue.

Yeah, me too. However, I've been on the receiving end of these techniques as well and, honestly, it always makes me feel somewhere between uncomfortable/hurt and annoyed/angry. Enough so, that I don't try to fake it anymore.

How can you recover gracefully when you haven't been listening? Take a breath and...

  • Own Up and Apologize. It's really not a big deal, but it can mean so much when you're willing to say, "I'm sorry, I got distracted and I missed what you said." 
  • Get Back on the Same Page. Summarize what you understand, so far and ask your friend to repeat what you missed. (For more on effective summarizing, see Reflecting Content)
  • Reassure or Reschedule. Reassure your friend that you are present and listening, now. Or, if that isn't possible, let her know why you can't continue right now and make a plan for when you can hear the rest of what she has to say. (Almost half of my phone calls to my mom end with me apologizing for missing what she has just said and then promising to call back to hear about ____ as soon as (insert child's name) is no longer crying/distracted by tv/asleep/etc.)
When you're open about your attention lapse and make the effort to recover, you convey respect and care. AND you get to avoid those awkward moments when you both know you weren't listening but you're too embarrassed to say anything and you're friend is too uncomfortable to call you out on it. 

Ahh...doesn't it feel good to be honest and gentle? 

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Photo credit: Listen by ky_olsen, cc license

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