Deborah Tannen wrote a book titled, "You Just Don’t Understand". It's over 20 years old, yet I still reference a story from her work that has stuck with me about how women and men communicate. My recollection of the story is that a wife comes home from a bad day at the office and wants to tell her husband what went wrong with her boss. The husband listens intently and then tries to offer her a solution as a way to resolve ‘her’ problem. The wife gets frustrated claiming she does not need him to problem solve and ends the conversation by saying, “you just don’t understand [hence the title of the book].
The next day the husband comes home and complains about how bad his day had been. The wife listens intently as well and then tries to share a similar story from a close friend of hers. He gets frustrated and says he does not care about her friend and storms out saying “you just don’t understand.” His wife was trying to normalize and let him know that it happens to other people as well and that he does not need to be upset about it.
One reason I reference this story every so often is because when I am working with clients either as a couple or as an individual it becomes obvious that not every conversation they have is about solving problems, sometimes the person just wants/needs to vent. It comes down to a basic listening skill – are we listening to understand or are we listening to respond or even react. This is a skill well worth developing to constantly improve our interpersonal relationships. There is nothing more powerful or persuasive than developing a reputation of being a good listener. As the famous Greek philosopher Epictetus reminds us: we have two ears and one mouth so that we listen twice as much as we speak.
Here’s your challenge: try taking the time periodically throughout the day to listen to understand and then reflect back to the other person what you heard her/him say. The benefits are two-fold; one you get practice at being a better listener and the person being listened to will really feel validated and appreciated