:: WHY WE BE ::

Boo to false, self-imposed limits, we say. These champion oracles want to live enthusiastically. Follow our trip through projects that challenge, frustrate, and/or scare us. In the end (which is really the middle) we want to live like big bright free and authentically awesome people.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Bill Art of Listening (Tanya)

So I have a co-worker named Bill Art. He’s a fascinating guy who works in Crisis Services alongside me, and we’ve done some trainings together, so I hope he doesn’t mind me referencing him. I won’t go into great detail about him other than to say he inspires me as a clinician and as a person, and I thought this would be a nice catchy title to my post. Bill Art is inherently kind, he is an exceptionally skilled therapist, very passionate about the work, and he really listens to people. He also is very in tuned with health in general. I find these things to be exceptional, and I like Bill very much as a person.

So I have been trying to work on listening. Listening is very hard. I read a statistic once that we remember something like 25 to 50 percent of what we hear, yikes! If you break down the actual time of the last intimate conversation you had with a friend or worse yet, your mortgage broker or your boss, even bigger YIZERS! Anyway, I believe listening was #8 on my list of self- improvement goals a few posts back (I re-checked that, and I am proud to say I REMEMBERED that was #8, so take that future Dementia!!).

So anyway, to really really, really really really actively listen without constructing a response prematurely is challenging. Sometimes I come up with fantastic responses before I even have any clue what the person I’m conversing with is saying, and that is just not cool, not cool at all. So, I’ve been working on listening with a wide open brain, cleared, fresh of any preconceived notions in hopes to hear brand new ideas and maybe even change my mind a time or two million. Sometimes, lately, I’ve even found myself and the other person just looking at each other with a small silence after the person is done speaking. THEN I’m like, whoa, ok! Yes, I heard everything you had to say! And I have feedback for you now on every single thing you had to say. I like it very much. Plus (and I heard this in a training once), nobody will ever listen more closely to what you have to say in return than when you summarize his or her own words back to him or her…. “So what I hear you saying is….” So really, this is a win-win for everybody!

Now, I am a trained listener. I know all the important things about good solid active listening. I know how to pay attention with good eye contact and good body language positioning myself to face someone without crossing my arms and whatnot, and of course demonstrating absolute compassion. I feel the compassion, and I (usually) mean it. I know how to use good nonverbal signals like a good “hmmm hmmm” and an occasional nod and facial expression to mirror someone’s words of pain or happiness or anxiety or whatever. I know how to give a little feedback with good timing and paraphrase what someone is saying or ask for clarifying information if I need more. I know when to not speak, and I know when to assert myself with someone a little more directly and honestly and maybe even in candid ways, obviously showing the utmost respect all the while.

Now, all of the above, I am excellent at doing these things in my professional world. Well, of course, not perfect, so perhaps “excellent” should be stated more like “usually good.” An example of this would be recently when a gentleman looked at me exasperated and said, “You are just like my wife! You are sitting there acting like you’re listening to me, but you’ve zoned me out! You’re not helping me at all, this is a waste of time.” So, there are moments like this that make me sit up with better posture and examine my listening attitude. Zoning someone out is probably far worse than throwing at them a ton of “yes, buts……” or reframing what they’ve said incorrectly. Note to self.

In my private, personal space life, where I get to wear my Vans sneakers, frayed jeans, and no make-up (or maybe more make-up if I’m all snazzed up for some fun, woo!), this is where things get really tricky and murky and sometimes a little smelly and stupid. I still know all of the above things, and I even use the above skills 62 to 78 percent of the time, but sometimes it is just so absurdly hard. I would like to increase my numbers to the 90-percentile range. I say things to people who I absolutely love and adore like, “well that sucks beans” (usually with a scowl), and I can be Queen Beezwax at zoning out and implementing avoidant behavior (i.e. opposite of any remote listening “talking to the hand, man”). If I don’t feel like listening, man oh man, do I not listen. Some eves, by the time I get home, I am literally so spent, I have nothing to say, nothing to hear, no eye contact to find. But, BUT, when I do pick up that phone and talk to someone who I love and adore, and when I do talk about his or her day, it is fabulous. When I do find that human eye contact, that face-to-face connection, it is ahhhh-mazing. I always feel a little sparkle. It is so worth it! I mean seriously, I always talk to my four-legged kids when I get home. We always have a little diddy of a conversation of, “How are you, how are you??!! How are my babies! What would I do without you two!! Did you have a good day? You did? Oh yeah? What did you do? Were you good?? You are such little knuckleheads!!! Wanna a treat?? You do, you do??! Well let’s get a treat!! Yes!! Yes!!”…. So, you get the picture, and I talk to them all night basically (because that is how I roll, and I don’t plan to stop talking to my dogs by the way).

Okay, so Goal #8. What have I done? Well, I have been picking up that phone more and calling people. I love love love listening to my music to and from work, and instead, I’ve been (sometimes, not every time, but truly a lot) using this time to call people. Real live people. I know this may sound lame, but I spend a lot of time driving going from work to work, so this is golden opportunity social time for me. I have also been trying to complain less and listen more in general. I have no idea how I’m doing on this one, but I am throwing it in here to keep me honest to keep trying. I’ve also been trying to plan more things with friends and be more open to find time DURING THE WEEK. Why is this so hard anyway? This is still very much a work in progress however. Weekends, however, they are pretty stellar if I do say so myself. Yay me!

The other things I’ve been doing are things like trying to make more connection with people in just random places (kind of goes along with smiling but I think it’s fitting). This brings me to a quick story. This past week I stopped to get gas really quick on my way home at a station I like to go to in Prairie Village (Prairie Village is the kind of place that just makes a person feel a little bit richer by the way). Of course the pay at the pump feature was not working so I had to actually physically walk away from my car and GO INSIDE and prepay the cashier. The line was long (like seven people), and everyone was seemingly grouchy sporting furrowed brows. So I walked in, and it was really stupid cold outside by the way so the “long” walk was very cold. So I walked in, made a point of smiling at anyone who looked my way, and then I struck up a conversation with the cashier. I learned that he’d had a really long night with the pay at the pump feature going out hours ago, and he was really stressed and frazzled. He was working his tail off, and he had hours of work yet to go. So here I was, first being Miss Annoyed Pants at my inconvenience at my one pay at the pump malfunction, and he was dealing with like a gazillion grouchy patrons mostly in a hurry to get home and giving out little patience or gratitude. I gave him more patience than I felt and told that Mr. Cashier Man to have a wonderful eve and that I hoped his night went smoother and expedient. He at least smiled, and if I’m not mistaken, I believe another man after me was smiling and chatting it up with Mr. Cashier Man when I left.

Okay, so this is me, which brings me up to the current of today. I have had a lot on my mind recently that maybe I’ll write about next time or something close. I am thinking this should maybe be a goal to figure out extra tools to deal with “stuff” I have little control over or that’s really just “sweating the small stuff” instead of racking up extra miles on my treadmill, which I’ve been doing a lot of these past few months. Maybe “listening” to my own knees……ha, just thought about how listening applies here too! I could most definitely use some variety (that I will stick to) in my outlets for mind muck (I also love the word “muck”).

So anyway(s), it is cold outside so I think I will pour myself a cup of coffee and find my first victim who I can actively listen to today. Hopefully I will not zone anyone out. I am also attaching a few pictures from last year; really this is for no specific purpose, but the other COFFEE chickadees have all been posting such cool videos and pictures, I thought I would join in. Included here are 1) me trying to feel and listen for the presence of ghosts at Queen Anne Hotel in San Francisco (rumored to be haunted by the nicest ghost in the world by the way), and 2) me training officers on mental health (look at how excited I am to be listened to noted by my “animated” eyes!) Woo!


Wendy said...

Wow Tanya, What a great post! Being a better listener - what a worthy goal! I loved this line especially, in your story about the cashier "I gave him more patience than I felt .." It's amazing how giving from our deficit can pay off doubly for us, because I can just imagine you walking back to your car, the cold not quite as cold as before and a smile on your face.
Not to get all Peter Cetera-ey oon you but, you're an inspiration, Sister Tanya.

T-Free said...

"...so take that future Dementia!"

Haha! That made me laugh.

I really like the idea of listening training, and know exactly what you mean by waiting until someone is done speaking before you answer, even in your own head. I have caught myself not only answering too quickly, too thoughtlessly, but finishing someone's sentences for them, and then I get mad at my brain for trying to go too fast. Slow down and really listen to people, my crazy brain!

I think that after listening to people all day long at work, it would be the hardest thing in the world to come home and be a good listener. Like telling a car mechanic they get to come home from a day toiling at the garage and fix your car for free. I commend you for your impressive effort.

Awww. You definitely made Mr. Cashier Man's night a little bit brighter with your kindness. I worked in a convenience store for five years, and the nice people who popped in between the rude ones and treated me like a human instead of a machine made everything so much better. Way to go!

I love the pictures. I would be beet red and terrified speaking in front of the people like that, by the way, you brave lady. And did you hear any ghosts at the hotel? I hope so! :)

patresa said...

i love that when i read your posts i can hear you talking. you're every bit as animated in writing as you are in person, and i like that about you!

i also like that you can call poor listening "smelly and stupid." :)

and listening. YES! so important in such big ways. listening to others, listening to self, listening to knees, listening to universe... i think that's a very big and cosmic key in the concept of listening.

also, i wanted to say that i very much related to the part where you said you come home in the evenings and you are spent. i read that as fatigue. complete and total fatigue. and i think it's really interesting how communicating can be fatiguing. hm.

good on you, t.

Steph said...

Oh, T... Listening, really listening... it's a gift that we choose to give someone. It requires getting over yourself, gifting someone with your time and attention. That's not easy, especially when we're busy and thoughtful and brilliant! :) I commend you for practicing this skill not just at work but in your everyday life. I know at the end of my day, I really just need FIVE MINUTES of peace and quiet to rest my mind and tongue. I talk more and listen less than you do all day, but effective and strategic communication is fatiguing! (It IS interesting, isn't it, P?)
As silly as it sounds, I actually had this thought last week when my daughter looked right at me while she was telling me about something tremendously important that had happened to her that day. She gave me this look of utter disgust laced with disappointment and asked me to repeat what she'd just said. I absolutely could NOT repeat a word of it. I broke her heart, and I'm sure that's not the first time or that she's the only person in my life I've done that to. OUCH. Utter shame is what I felt, and no apology will mend her heart. The next day, I made a vow to do better. And I have done better, even if it means I have to ask them to give me a moment to finish a thought or project and then come back to tell me what they need to say so that I can focus and listen. They deserve and want desperately to be heard, just like I think I deserve & want to be heard.
P is right on. You do write the same way you would talk about things, and I find it refreshing and entertaining. So proud of you and can't wait to hear what it is you've been noodling! Keep up the great work, sister... ROLL WIF IT!

Steph said...

P.S. Love the pics!!!! Thanks for sharing!

Tanner May (Tanya) said...

Hey thanks Ladies!

Wendy, Peter Cetera! I love some Peter! "Giving from our deficit can pay off doubly for us." Well, that is so well said. You are right what a gift we give ourselves actually by giving to others. It's just cool, I like that thought a lot. Man, it's thoughts like that, Wendy, that makes it easier to just DO these things.

Tawni, I actually am always trying to remind myself to do brain stimulating things to fight off Dementia... sometimes I think my tv watching is not doing the trick. :) Thanks for your insight, so right on. And WOW, 5 yrs, I bet you have some great stories!

P-Diddy, Thanks Sister! I didn't realize this information but I like that you think it's good. I probably do this a lot..... I think I will notice more, like in boring emails at work and such. I am queen of the emoticon, which is probably not necessarily business-y. :) Oh, and YESSS, fatigue. I thing that's it.

Steph, Thanks for all the inspiration and cheer you bring. I bet your daughter was SURPRISED in that moment because I would gander and even bet some moolah that you are normally a great listener! I also think it speaks to her assertiveness skills that she called you to the carpet, love kids like this! :)

blj said...

I'm with you Tanya, listening is hard and talking to dogs is easy! I could take a lesson from my dog, he's very attentive when I talk to him. But I, however, am also good at zoning out. Noble goals and good progress!

amy said...

First of all, Tanya Tanner May, I would like to say how very friendly and open you look in both pictures. In one, you are clearly willing to listen to any lonely ghost in need of a good listener, and in the other picture, I can tell you are a complete and total professional (in a friendly, good-listener kind of way). I bet those officers left as total rock stars in terms of handling their mental health.

Second, this listening thing IS so hard. C and I sat through hours of therapy/training on how to do it, and sometimes when he speaks, I totally forget to stop, listen, and then re-phrase what I heard him just say. He speaks and I'm already forming my counter-argument in my head (because he's a skilled contract negotiator. I have to SURVIVE, damnit).

And 3rd, I already deeply admire you, because I would have been deeply wounded and angry all day if a man told me I was just like his wife AND I was zoning him out AND I was wasting his time. I would have gotten totally passive aggressive with him--found his weakest point and stuck the voodoo pin in it, over and over. (Which is why you're the therapist professional and I stick to 1st graders) (who I get passive aggressive with a lot, too).

And last, I love reading your updates, because I always get so excited...there's always some kind of breakthrough/thoughtful reflection I can relate to on a deep level. As in, "Hey! Tanya's doing that, maybe I should try that too because I need to work on that!" or "Man! I soooo relate to this."

Also, your dogs are lucky. I wish someone would talk to me like that when I walked in the door. :-)

Katie said...

Hi Tanya! I think it's awesome how you write, I think you would be the coolest pen-pal ever. Also, I understand at a cellular level what you mean about professional communication and the communication you use when you feel like you can shorthand it. O, la, the "sucks beans" part could have come from a script in the Neubauer household. I spend all day talking teacher- and school-speak that when I come home I want to say poopypants and yeah, right A-hole, and stick a sock in it. I always know I have a solid friend when they don't expect me to talk like an adult when I'm with them.

And also, I talk to my dogs every day like that. Every day. I have more running commentary with them than I do with people. It's like I spend all day trying to be so carefully structured in my speech, attention, body language that when I walk through the door, it becomes a free for all in Grammer City. It's comfies on and hair back and make-up OFF. And I'm with ya on the make-up. I almost never wear it outside of work. I do have to wear it at work though because when I don't people ask if I feel well. But otherwise, vacation to me means primarily that I don't have to pack make-up and special shoes.

So, keep rockin it!!