Both Brené Brown and Louise Penny highlight the idea of near enemies. These are emotions that masquerade as positive emotions but are not. So they fool us, and they fool those around us. Pity is the near enemy of compassion. Attachment is the near enemy of love. Indifference is the near enemy of equanimity. To find out more . . .
The idea of behaviors that we mistake for the better ones shows up in a very particular aspect of the listening loop as well—responses we think show listening but actually indicate the opposite.
I suggest that what we compose while someone else is speaking is a very powerful indicator of what we attend, and what we attend is the most powerful marker for listening. More so than our body language, eye contact, all those things we learn to do in the first grade so that the teacher thinks we’re paying attention. Teachers always look for the goof-off to call on. Trust me. I know on both ends.
The mouth? In my many conversations with Colin Smith, we finally decided that he’s the listener and I’m the talker. The Ears and the Mouth. Not exclusive categories either. I came to my love affair with words from my introversion and shyness, and from a third part of my makeup as well. Introversion has a cool definition—prefers a minimally stimulating social environment. Shyness has to do with fear of judgment, and awkwardness around others. The third? I also have a stutter. That makes speaking both perilous and precious. None of these, btw, do I see as afflictions, although that has not always been the case.
So here is my little treatise on near enemies when it comes to talking. And what to do about them.
My surgery is my first near enemy for listening. Say you’re having a conversation and mention you need knee surgery. The response? “Oh, I had knee surgery two years ago. Both knees, actually. You see, I’d been . . .” and so forth. The double knee-ite is leapfrogging your experience as a way to get to theirs. Listening for entry, not for interest. Waiting for their chance, as my stepson would say, with “bait-like breath.”
Helpful judgment is also on the hit parade of near enemies for listening. You’ve mentioned your cat’s situation and here they go: “So you know what you ought to do? My cat had the same problem before we put her down, poor thing, and the only thing that worked was when my husband held her and I . . . .” This one is both my surgery and helpful judgment. Unless someone asks for a solution, taking the conversation there shows very clearly you were already moving ahead to your response instead of listening.
D4B – Drain for the Brain. As if some sort of backed-up lake of old dishwater has been building up and the dam finally breaks. Tsunami. Drowning in the Deep End. Awash.
Words reflect who we are. They also create who we are. We’re not just talking to them, we’re talking to us. If we can’t remember what we just said, they can’t either. Words are poetry, not dissertations. Please. Each is precious, and they lose that distinction when they struggle in a crowd.
When we take the time to listen, and show the love to shape and refine, boil down for the sake of their understanding, we pay homage to their experience. The subtle benefit of that is that composing to create understanding also increases our tendency to better understand.
When you respond, use the rhythm of reflect and investigate. You can only do that if you attend absolutely to what the other offers. Try this for an experiment. Talk with others about a story rather than an issue, e.g. What might it be like growing up in the past couple of years? While the other talks, absolutely avoid (dis)agreement and solutions. Your goal is to follow them where they lead, to explore differences and alignment with equal value. Understanding and agreement are distinct.
Two final thoughts. Speak only enough that you could repeat what you just said. Verbatim. Try that as a new goal. You’ll be amazed at how much wiser you are.
And remember W.A.I.T. and W.A.I.S.T. —
Why am I talking?
Why am I still talking?