Avoiding the Resentful Listener
In almost any situation honoring someone's choice creates better connection. Autonomy is one of the most important human needs. When someone has the perception that you are talking to them without considering their choice, resentful listening is often the result.
A little mindfulness about starting a conversation can go a long way. In a couple I have been working with, one partner said she had been practicing starting conversations by asking her partner, "Can I tell you something?" With this one little question, her partner felt great relief because it met her needs for consideration, choice, and participation.
The partner who asked was also relieved to get clarity about when she could be heard and when she couldn't. Without this clarity she reported this experience, "My partner would look up at me with irritation and say, ‘I can't listen to you right now.' I would then feel hurt and either shut down or get angry." She said this rarely happens now.
They also made an agreement that neither of them would try to talk over the kids. When a child interrupted, the conversation would stop, one of them would tend to the child's need, and then the conversation could start again where it left off.
Asking if someone wants to listen to you before you start talking, not only respects their choice, but also supports you in getting heard.
Here are some ways to ask for listening:
Can I tell you something?
I have something to share. Are you up for hearing it?
I have a celebration. Can I share it with you?
I am wanting to tell about ______. Are you interested in hearing?
I notice I am needing empathy. Are you in a place for that?
As you come up with ways to ask for listening you may find that you get an automatic yes from certain people. Sometimes people are so surprised at being asked they don't really believe it's a choice. You can support someone in making an authentic choice by offering a second option such as:
Or do you want to talk later?
Or are you needing some quiet?
Or are you really focused on what you are doing?
Or does that topic seem like too much right now?
Offering options like these shows more explicitly that you are considering their needs when you make your request.
This week practice checking in with someone before you start a conversation. Practice a variety of ways to honor their choice in listening or not. When someone does choose consciously to listen to you, notice if there is a difference in your quality of connection and your sense of being heard.