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This is one of a series of brief articles on how
to respond effectively to annoying social
behavior. An effective response occurs
when you get your
primary needs met
well enough, and both people feel
heard and respected enough.
This article offers useful responses to
the behavior of someone who often can't hear
what you're expressing ("doesn't listen").It assumes you're familiar with...
intro to this nonprofit Web site and the
How do you tell if someone is
you? Can you describe the difference between listening and
hearing to an average
pre-teen? Do you think it's possible to hear
someone without empathizing (vs.
agreeing) with them?
Premise - communication occurs
when two or more people decode information from
each others' existence or behaviors. From
infancy, we learn to decode up to four
simultaneous "messages" about each other in
important situations - "What are you thinking +
feeling + needing + valuing right now?"
Valuing means "Who's needs and feelings are
most important to you now - yours, mine, ours,
or someone else's?"
match your experience?
heard well enough means "I
perceive that (a) you accurately receive what I
think, feel, and need right now, and (b) you
respect both of us equally." Anything
less than this is listening. Does
this help to explain why people frustrate each
other by saying
not listening to (hearing) me!" "Yes I AM!"How many average adults and kids do you think
are aware of what you just read?
Since most of us are only vaguely aware of what
we're thinking, feeling, needing, and valuing in
conversations, we unconsciously guess at these
four variables all the time. We use our
perceptions of each other's words + voice
dynamics + face and body language to do this. If
we guess wrong (or don't guess), our partner is
apt to feel unheard - even if we can
repeat the words we just heard.
reasons you may feel someone isn'tlistening to (hearing) you are
you're not aware
of - or aren't clearly saying - what
you think + feel + need + value now; or...
the receiver is
unaware of or wrongly decoding these things;
the two of you
aren't able to problem-solve this
effectively because you're (a) unaware of
process, and/or you're (b) confusing hearing with
secondary reasons for you feeling unheard
include your partner...
by something emotional (like fear) or
Get clear on
communication need/s, and estimate or ask what your partner needs now. If
clash, compromise or invite your partner to
Ask your partner
to wait for 30 seconds while you do this
Identify how not feeling
you - what do you feel, specifically?
Common reactions are disrespected,
resentful, hurt, irritated or angry,
frustrated, and distracted.
Identify clearly what you need from your
response - e.g. to vent, inform,
learn, cause action, set or enforce a limit,
problem-solve, or something else. If you
need to argue, blame, complain, whine, hint,
bring up the past, get mad, generalize, or
avoid eye contact, you're probably
dominated by a false self. Each of these is
a lose-lose exchange.
With steady eye
contact, ask your partner if s/he is open to
some personal feedback now.
Option - If s/he
isn't, you have a
different need to fill. If s/he agrees,
respond depending on what you need...
To vent, learn, or inform
I'm not feeling heard by you now (and I feel
''I''-message to "You're not listening to me!," which is a
blameful (lose-lose) "you" message.
"(Name), I don't
know if you're hearing me. Please give me a
hearing check." If s/he does and it's
incorrect, restate what you want your
partner to hear.
seem to have a one-person awareness bubble
now, and I feel ignored, unheard, and disrespected."
you talk non-stop and don't ask my reaction,
I lose interest in listening to you."
"I need you to
want to hear me, not agree
you don't react to what I'm saying, I feel
ignored and frustrated."
you seem distracted now. Are you?"
"You seem to
hear my words, but not what I feel or need."
To Cause Change or Set a Limit
you're not interested in what I'm saying,
please say so directly. Will you
"If I talk too
long / give you too much detail / am too
emotional / over-focus on me / ramble /
please tell me."
you won't look at me when I'm speaking, I'm
not sure you're hearing me."
you keep interrupting me, I feel like you
don't care about my fee-lings or opinions and
I feel disrespected, hurt, and frustrated.
Please let me finish"
Notice the theme of these responses:
your partner's name as an affirmation
statements, questions, or observations, not labels or judgments like
"You're being rude / insensitive /
self-centered / disrespectful...etc."
and to the point, without apologies or
always or never (generalize);and these responses...
the person to want to hear to
you. That avoids a Be Spontaneous!
paradox; and they...
or criticize the person for not
demand that s/he
hear, or say "You need to
listen to me!" (that's your
calmly, without sarcasm or scorn, with
steady eye contact; and...
the normal need for genuine
Opinion - enduring someone's not
hearing you in important
conversations is self-neglect.
If your partner
wounded, s/he may "resist" responses like
those above by...
/ arguing ("I
am listening to you!")
defending and excusing ("It's not
my fault, because..."),
just hypersensitive. Get over it!"),
whining ("I just can't help it"),
getting angry ("Why are you always
criticizing me?"), or...
over-apologizing ["I'm SO sorry - I'm
so insensitive (and inferior)."]
empathic listening with any
resistances like these, and then reassert your need calmly,
without lengthy explanations. That can sound
you do hear me well enough."
tune me out because I talk too
you can't control your no listening."
"You feel I
criticize you too much."
guilty and apologetic for not listening
Empathic statements like these do
mean you agree with the other person - they affirm
that you hear them.
Notice the outcome of your assertion,
and thank the other person if they hear
If they continue to monolog or ignore you, enforce a
behavioral limit with them, like...
Keep good eye contact, and
hold up a finger (count) each time you
feel unheard, and/or..
Say something calmly
"I feel unheard and disrespected by you now;"
time you ignore or talk over me, I'm going to walk
away / hang up / stop talking with you." etc.
taking responsibility for the person's
not hearing - e.g. if s/he says
something like "You have to remind me," say
"No, I won't do
Pause and reflect on these response options. Do
they seem realistic? Do-able? Is there anything
in the way of you're using them with people who
don't (want to) hear you? Experiment with them to
experience their effectiveness. Then teach them
to other people you care about - specially kids.
Let's look briefly at the other case...
I Don't Hear Others?
Do others complain that you "don't listen to them"
If so, how have you reacted? Any-thing like the
This YouTube video offers perspective on
"empathic listening" skill:
for not hearing (above), and
keep your true Self
in charge. Then use
process aware-ness to notice if and when they apply to you, When
they do, own your responsibility to fill
(assert) your own need/s respectfully. That can
sorry. I'm just not interested in (their
"(Name), I can't
listen to you very well now. I'm distracted
you repeat yourself
so often, I stop listening to you."
you talk on and on
without giving me a chance to respond, I
stop listening to you."
you need to keep [ focusing on the past /
complaining / gossiping / criticizing
others / preaching / lecturing / analyzing /
catastrophizing / talking about yourself /
etc. ] I don 't feel like listening to you."
you need to change the subject before I'm
finished, I feel
frustrated and I can't hear you well."
rather ___________ than talk, right now."
the theme behind statements like these -
honest disclosure of what you feel and need.
Recall - your needs and feelings are just as
legitimate and important as your partner's, so
no apologies, explanations, or justifications
are needed! If your needs conflict, consider
This article is one of a
of effective responses to common problem
behaviors in adults and kids, based on
Lesson 2 in this nonprofit Web site. The article suggests
a difference between listening and hearing,
to a person who doesn't want to - or isn't able
to - hear you.
It also proposes effective ways to respond when
you can't hear someone for various reasons.