Remembering a conversation with my son after he lost the closely fought team doubles badminton final.
As he walked across the court to meet me.
Adi: (With tears welling up in his eyes.) I was terrible. I’m the reason we lost the game.
Me (disagreeing): No you weren’t, you were good!
Adi: I was not! I missed the drop shot when we were on match-point. That was crucial. If I had made that one then we would have restored parity and would have been one set apiece, taking the match to the third set.
Me (reassuring): No one expects you to win the match by yourself. However, a little more practice, and you’ll do better.
Adi: You don’t understand.
Me (disagreeing): I do understand. I have experienced those moments myself.
Adi: Just stop it, Pa! (Adi turned around and started to walk away.)
Me (criticizing): You are just too stubborn to listen to reason.
You will find that in this conversation, I ended up committing both the listening miss-haps; that of providing quick ‘assurance’ and the second of ‘diverting’. In the last post on ‘Listening’, I talked about how jumping to offer quick assurance is a poor listening habit.
Today let us look at one more – that of diverting.
It’s highly likely that you are trying to divert attention while listening when you start to use phrases like;
“That reminds me of the time when I…”
“You think that is bad, last week even I…”
“Speaking of which, I was thinking …”
“I know what you are about to say …”
In a way, it’s not surprising that diverting would be a frequent temptation for many people. When someone starts talking about a challenge they are facing, there is a fair chance that you’ll start thinking about one that you’ve been through or are grappling with.
If they describe what they did last weekend, you’ll undoubtedly be reminded of your weekend activities. That’s the way the human mind works. And when your mind makes these associations, you’re so eager to talk about them that you often burst into “talking” mode, describing your experience without realizing that the other person hadn’t finished talking about what was on their mind.
It’s very similar to the situation when a harried wife comes back home from work and says, “What a day! I don’t think there was anything left to go wrong today”. Before she could unburden herself, her husband might start saying things like, “You know what? I completely relate to how you might be feeling, my day was unbelievably terrible”—and he starts relating all the of his problems in the office.
Now you may say “weren’t they talking about the same topic: a bad day at work?”.
You may not realize in the first instance, that it was the wife who wanted to talk about her bad day, and the husband wouldn’t wait even for a moment before jumping in to talk about his bad day. Notice, they are two very different conversations and about two different people and their experiences.
I am sure you would have also had similar experiences. For example, if you tell about a recent stressful situation, a poor listener as a diverter is apt to interrupt, saying something like “Wait till you hear what happened to me,” and delve into an account of a troublesome situation that he/she experienced, which, of course, was far worse than yours. Whatever may have happened to you, these diverters are quick to let you know that it’s nothing compared to what they’ve experienced.
If you too have this habit of diverting, it won’t be long before people assume you are self-centered and have little interest in what they have to say. That’s no way to build relationships. You’ll soon find that their engagement with you is slowing down to a trickle.
So, discipline yourself to listen intently to the other person until you are sure that they have finished what they have to say. Then, if you want to add something, feel free to tell your experience or make your point.
I have been teaching people “HOW TO LISTEN?” for over 30 years through the
“Professional Listening Services”.
If you want to learn how to “Listen” so that you
have great conversations and strong relationships,
you could get in touch with me. 👇🏽