The reason why we only listen to certain people is largely because of the way they speak to us. This explains why people don’t listen to us. It’s not only because they don’t listen, it’s because of the way we speak.
The reason why we only listen to certain people is largely, not entirely but largely, because of the way they speak to us.
How often is it that you say things to people and they simply don’t listen? You tell your spouse something and they don’t listen. You tell your children things, they don’t listen. You tell your friend things, they don’t listen. People simply don’t listen. And when they don’t listen, what do we classically say? Oh, you never listen. Oh, they never listen. We always blame the other person for being someone who never listens. And that’s the reason why we’re not being heard, because they’re just people who don’t listen.
Yet, what’s shocking is, that when a friend proposes the exact same idea that we suggested to them, we suddenly see that they listen, which only outrages us more. You listen to them but you don’t listen to me? Why do you always listen to them and how come you never listen to me? And we become outraged by this. However, if they are people who never listen, why do they listen to their friend and why don’t they listen to us?
So I’d like to ask you two questions. Number one, by blaming them after they don’t listen and saying, oh, you never listen, does that ever help in getting them to listen? Or, do they continue not to listen?
And, Question Number two, is it in fact true that they never listen? Apparently, they do, because they listen to their friend.
So let’s reverse the tables here so that it will be easier to look at this more objectively. Let’s talk about a scenario where someone is giving us an idea and we are not listening. Right, so our spouse or our parent or our friend is telling us something or suggesting something and we just don’t listen. I hear what you’re saying, but, whatever. And they then tell us, what’s wrong with you, you never listen to anything I say. When they say what’s wrong with you, you never listen to anything I say, does that encourage us to listen to them now because they said that? Or does that only solidify us not listening to them? In many cases, it only solidifies us not listening to them. Why? Because that type of a judgemental statement, oh, you never listen to anything I say, only creates a greater separation between us and them and so we just further our not listening to them. So not only is our perspective that they never listen or you never listen not productive, as we just demonstrated, but I want to tell you that it’s also not true.
We listen to our friend when our friend tells us the exact same idea. So why is it that we didn’t listen to our parent or our spouse or whoever it may have been? It’s not because we don’t listen. It’s because we only listen to certain people. And the reason why we only listen to certain people is largely, not entirely but largely, because of the way they speak to us. And this is true when we speak to others. The reason why our child or our spouse will listen to their friend before they listen to us is largely because of the way we speak to them. Not because they don’t listen.
So instead of dumping the blame on them, we should take responsibility for the way we speak, at least that’s what we should do if we want to see better results.
So here is the key to speaking to another person so that they will listen, and this key can take many years to perfect because it’s not easy and it’s got to be a reflection of who we are as a person. If we’re putting this on, it’s never going to fly because people read right through us.
The moment we speak to another person and any part of our speaking to them carries a personal agenda, even if it’s only 50 percent of it or only 20 percent of what we’re saying to the other person, but part of it is a personal benefit, then it makes it very difficult and I would say nearly impossible for the other person to listen to us. Because they’re not hearing a clear message that is out of pure concern for them, they hear an agenda and that automatically gets them to reject what we’re telling them. It’s very hard for us to do this because it’s very hard for us to speak with complete concern for another person. That is a very selfless thing to do and it’s very hard for us to be that selfless.
Most often, if you pay close attention and you’re a little bit honest, you will notice that when we are telling someone something harsh or a correction, whatever it may be, it’s with some form of anger. And we’re more interested in letting them know how wrong they are or that the way they’re doing it is wrong or that what they’re doing is frustrating me and, therefore, they should stop doing it that way. We’re more interested in letting off some steam or sometimes in letting them know that they are wrong. And it’s a form of self-righteousness and that is a communication which has so much to do with us and far too little to do with them. And, therefore, they reject what we’re telling them. And this is exactly why most criticism is actually ineffective. Because the way we criticize very often carries a significant element of how I am so frustrated with the way you are or with the way you just did that as opposed to being completely concerned that the person be able to produce better results in their life for themselves or that they do things which are wiser for themselves. It’s more how that bad choice affects me and I can’t stand it. And when people hear us speaking that way, they have a very hard time listening. The same way we have a very hard time listening to people who speak to us that way. Only when our concern is for the other person alone do most people listen.
Now, this isn’t a black and white thing. The reality is this: The more we can communicate with people without our own personal agendas drawn into the conversation, the higher a percentage there will be of another person listening to us; the more we are bringing our own agenda into the conversation, the smaller a chance the other person will listen to us. And the reason is not because they don’t listen, it’s because we don’t know how to talk, which is to talk out of complete concern for them instead of a talk which sounds like concern for them but really is a release, letting off steam or whatever it may be for ourselves.
So next time you expect someone to listen, I would suggest that you listen to yourself as well. And pay attention to whether it is truly all about them that you are telling them, that when you’re speaking to them is it truly all about them or is some of it really about you. The more you ask this question and the more you minimize your conversations with people being about you, the more people will be listening.