I get paid to listen to people; my job is to find out who they are or what they are doing and then write about it in a feature article.
The key to listening is asking the right questions. That would be easy, except there’s no right way to ask the right questions: every person is different. I like to think of interviews as turning up soil: you’re not digging a hole so much as you are loosening things up to find out what’s in there. You come from one angle and then another; you prod this spot and then another to find where the good stuff is buried because most of the time the other person doesn’t know where it is either.
Listening like this is a skill.
Listening to ourselves is the same way.
I’m not very good at listening to myself, but I am learning. I spent most of my life working on ignoring myself, telling myself that what I felt or thought was not important or might be damaging. I ignored myself so well that I didn’t even know I was doing it. That sounds dysfunctional, and it is, but I think a lot of us do it to one degree or another.
But I am learning to ask good questions.
I was offended recently by a friend. It was a very small thing she said — in fact, it wasn’t anything at all — but what she said and how she said it bothered me. And when stupid things bother us, that’s when we know there’s something buried there and it’s time to ask questions:
What bothered me? Why did that bother me? What did I feel? What else bothers me about this person or situation? What am I feeling about myself?
You prod and you dig and you poke until you find what’s really going on. And as I did, I found it: I felt uncared for, not valuable to this friend. And there was a whole series of related interactions and situations leading up to this one small thing. Whether she cares for and values me or not, I don’t know. The true part is that I felt uncared for and unvalued.
I found something else. I wasn’t very happy with myself in the relationship either. I had set expectations for myself in this relationship, things I wanted to do and to be, and I was not meeting my own expectations. I was disappointed in myself, like I had maybe failed her and myself.
That’s when the stupid thing — the small remark — made sense. When we don’t listen to ourselves, these things build up and overflow, like a pot of boiling water. When that happens, it’s better to assess the situation — see what needs to be done and do it –than to pop the lid back on and let it happen all over again.
I had to let go of this stuff. I had to let go of my expectations and my failure. I had to let go of my feeling uncared for and unvalued. I had to let go of the small pile of interactions that let this get to where it did.
I did and I’m good. For now. And that’s all we can really ask of ourselves
Ask questions. Listen to yourself. The first answer is not usually the right answer, the truest answer, the real problem. Keep asking questions. Prod and poke and dig until you hit something good.
Be your own best listener.