What To Do When He/She Isn’t Listening

Studio 5 Relationship Coach Matt Townsend outlines the steps to take when he or she isn’t listening.

Take The High Road!

One of the most important decisions any of us ever make is the initial, sometimes impulsive interpretations we make of why people do what they do. It doesn’t matter if your partner isn’t listening to you or if you’ve just been in a car accident, it is always your responsibility to decide how you are going to respond. The choice is really fairly simple. You can choose to take High Road or the Low Road interpretations of why your partner is ignoring you, but remember that whatever road you choose will determine the destination of your conversation. If you think your partner ignores you because you’re boring or because he doesn’t care for you, you’ll end up having completely different conversations and more negative feelings about the situation. Looking for the worst possible interpretations or catastrophizing are all what I call Low Road interpretations. The High Road interpretations might look more like this: He’s ignoring you because he’s just so into the article he’s reading? Maybe he didn’t really hear you or maybe he’s just too tired to think? Remember, if you really want to create healthier and better performing relationships and conversations, you better make sure your head is on the High Road before you start talking.

Redirect the Attention

Most people’s attention is fairly easy to re-direct. That is how magicians and pick pockets make their livings. To redirect their attention, you don’t always have to use words or make demeaning remarks to your partner. You don’t have to yell with disgust, “Are you even listening to me? Gosh, you are so rude!” I’ve found that when we start a conversation by threatening or demeaning another, it usually ends up being the least effective way to create a change. Sure it’s fast, but in the end it sidetracks you both from the real issue. Instead, try redirecting their attention by physically moving closer to your partner, maybe even stepping into their personal space, if they’re on the computer for example. You could even just walk up behind them and touch them gently on the back. Redirect their attention by using silence — not the mean, cold shoulder type of silence, but instead you can wait and see how long it takes them to notice you’re not talking anymore. When they do notice, you can reply with something warm like, “I knew you were busy and noticed that you were struggling listening to me and reading on the computer, so I quit talking.” Warm silence can show that you don’t have to be offended and can still send a very important message to your partner that you do see what they’re doing. The final method, and my personal favorite way to redirect attention is to turn the offensive moment into a good laugh. Without using sarcasm, I try to find the funny by saying crazy and bizarre things to see if they’re really listening, or sneaking up on them and putting my face right in theirs. That relieves the stress and sets the mood for a great conversation.

Only Eye Contact Counts

One assumption that far too many people make about communication is the belief that it actually takes place. Just because someone can hear your voice and grunts and laughs at the right time, doesn’t really mean they understand you. Everyone knows how to pretend to listen to someone by nodding their head and throwing in the occasional “uh huh” now and then. With all of the potential interruptions in our world that constantly compete for our attention, there is still one very old and true method to ensure someone really understands you . . . and that is to maintain eye contact. In my coaching world, I have struggling couples turn and face each other, eye to eye, for every conversation. In fact a basic rule is, “If you want me to change or deliver something with accountability, then we have to have the discussion eye to eye.” If my wife yelled something out to me while I was in the shower and we didn’t have eye contact, then in my world, she can’t hold me accountable to it. The eyes are powerful sources of discernment. When we have them engaged, we increase the likelihood to connect, understand and discern what the other is really thinking and feeling. Eye contact also demands that we make the conversation important enough that we will move and inconvenience ourselves to get it right. The eyes really are the windows to the soul.

Change Your Future by Learning Today

In the end, every conversation breakdown that couples go through is simply an opportunity to prevent a breakdown in the future. Meaning, if as couples we make a sincere effort to learn together from each of our unhealthy conversations, then in reality, we should eventually see a decrease in the number of unhealthy conversations. By talking about how we talk, we can learn together better ways to communicate difficult things to each other. For example, if your partner wasn’t listening to a story you were telling them, then I would do the following: First, I would take the High Road and assume that there are good reasons they weren’t listening. Secondly, I would re-direct their attention with a joke or silence and get them to notice the breakdown. Third, with eye contact I would communicate about the problem and finally ask them to help you find a way to communicate in the moment when you feel like you’re being ignored. By learning and asking questions like, “What should I do next time to clue you in when you’re not listening?” Out of the discussion you can create a new rule together that you will both play by. For example, you may both agree to use a phrase with your partner when you feel that they are listening. Sometimes in my own life, I use the phrase from Ferris Buehler’s school teacher who is calling role and Ferris isn’t in the room to answer to his name. He just simply says, “Buehler, Buehler.” Maybe something as simple as that can turn a potentially sour moment into a funny moment. Your new learning also has the potential to turn all future moments of inattention into something much more productive.

Date Nights with Matt Townsend

Friday, November 12
“The 7 Basic Needs of Every Relationship”
Location: Noah’s in South Jordan

Saturday, November 13
“The 5 Biggest Thinking Errors”
Location: Horizon Financial Center

$35 per couple
To register call 801-747-2121

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