About two years ago, my now husband Dave and I were having the following conversation* … a lot:
Me: Why aren’t you listening to me?
Dave: I AM listening to you.
M: It doesn’t seem like you are listening to me.
D: But I am.
M: You are staring at your computer and it doesn’t feel like you are paying attention to me.
D: Should I repeat everything that you just said?
M: That might help.
(Dave raises eyebrows)
Enter the power of one small word: mm-hmm. Little did we know that this conversation was displaying how I needed reassurance that Dave was listening and Dave needed me to trust him that he was. By reading Mars and Venus Together Forever: Relationship Skills for Lasting Love by John Gray we discovered our needs for reassurance and trust and that by using mm-hmm we could fulfill both of these needs quite easily. Our world changed rapidly.
Here is an example of a conversation we had last night:
Melissa: I bought three sweaters today. They are all the same style but different colours. Well, one is white.
M: I feel like the H&M cashier must have thought I was so boring to come to this stylish store and all I came up with was 3 v-neck, button up sweaters. Sheesh.
M: I feel as though I gave up on being stylish for ease. I should not have caved. Maybe I can jazz them up with jewelry.
D: That sounds like a good idea.
M: You think? Well, they ARE staples. I guess they are ok for work. Thanks for listening. I feel better. What would you like to have for dinner?
Yep, this actually happened. I realize it’s a pretty frivolous conversation, but it was bothering me and by listening my partner helped me get over it (poof!). When the topics are more important, it is exponentially more helpful to feel heard and we also spend more time on the discussion and not on HOW we are having the conversation.
The benefit for me is that I feel heard and reassured that Dave cares about whatever it is I am talking about. And, Dave gets benefits too. Let’s face it, most women have considerably more words than most men per day. Even though he is listening, and of course loving it, these conversations tend to be MUCH shorter. And yes, I occasionally use mm-hmm while listening to Dave. Although I often have lots of words left, sometimes the power of mm-hmm is also in it’s simplicity.
Of course we have blips and sometimes these “sweater” conversations are ones that I just need to have in my head or in my journal. I believe that our partners should not bare all our burdens (especially the small stuff) but for such a small word, we have learned that mm-hmm has got quite the power.
What’s your tip for how to improve our listening skills?
* a shout out to Jenny Lawson for mastering blogging conversations and planting the seed for this write-up of one. Dang, this chic has got the funny.