When You Don’t Want the Details
Being a compassionate listener doesn't necessarily mean hearing every detail of someone's story. Sometimes hearing the details of a story can have a lasting negative impact on you, as when someone is sharing a violent news story. Sometimes the details of a story just aren't connecting, as when someone shares a technical part of his or her job of which you have no real understanding.
Unfortunately when you say, "I don't want to hear the details, just summarize," it usually doesn't go over well with the other person. S/he can't distinguish between you not wanting the details and a sense of rejection or intolerance. So how can you take care of your own needs and still offer compassionate listening?
With the violent news story or similar example, you can follow these four steps: call a pause, reassure the other person that you want to hear him or her, let the other person know how you are affected by particular details, and then make a specific request. It might sound something like this, "Wait! I really want to hear about you. And when I hear details about violence, the images stay with me for years. Would you be willing to share about your experience without sharing the details?"
More often you likely find yourself hearing details to which you simply aren't connected, that is, you get bored. Sometimes the only way someone knows how to share an experience is by sharing the details of what happened. S/he doesn't have access to the experience behind the details in a direct way. So if you asked for the person's experience, you might get a blank stare. If you asked this person skip the details because you are bored and have a need for aliveness, you are likely to be perceived as insulting and rejecting.
What's more helpful is to interrupt to connect with an empathy guess. At first, when you interrupt, the other person may be a little startled and tense. Most interruptions are followed by taking attention away from the speaker, so it takes a few interruptions for the other person to get that you are actually expressing curiosity. Interrupting to connect is a skill that takes practice. It requires attunement to the other person's experience and a sense of how much intimacy your interaction of the moment can hold. It's a practice of listening to the other's heart regardless of the words. Over the course of the conversation you will feel the tone start to shift as the other person relaxes into being seen and heard more fully. Often your empathy guesses can float along the top of what the other person is saying in
one word or a short phrase. For example,
A bit overwhelming?
A frantic day?
You're really into it, huh?
It's your passion?
Do you enjoy the challenge of those technical problems?
You can likely tolerate a certain amount of boredom or disconnect in a conversation knowing that conversations have ups and downs. However, when boredom turns into resentful listening, it's toxic for both of you. Interrupting to connect is a way to take responsibility not only for your own needs, but also for caring for the relationship.
PracticeTake a moment now to choose a particular relationship to practice interrupting to connect. Set your intention to practice in the next interaction with this person.