Listen up!

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Listen Up!

In my opinion, the quality of a good relationship is measured in part by how well the parties listen to each other.  Reflecting back on the best of all times with others is when a genuine conversation took place; where there was a sweet rhythmic dance of the dialog.  I reflect on such times with a set of friends in Louisiana.  We’d gather spontaneously, usually at our home.  What often started off as checking in with each other ended up hours later with a most memorable and delicious fraternity.  We joked and laughed as we played games, then strolled into one another’s lives touching on the ups and downs we faced.  Often, we would get seriously quiet as we contemplated some pretty profound things one or more of us were facing.  At times we would cry together.  At other times we would laugh together.  All in all, those were good times and we bonded more than mere friends would.  In those hours we were like an ideal family. 

As time marched on, those events happened less and less.  Why?  We had tasted something very good and we longed for it.  Periodically, when we would travel to Boise, we would enter into such heavenly episodes with family or friends (who once lived in Louisiana).  Every now and then, we found this dance among people and friends in Denver, San Diego, Monterey, Long Beach, or San Jose.  

Certainly, there is a positive chemistry between good dancers.  Temperaments, personalities, and common interests come into play.  With some, such as a dear family we met in Long Beach right before we moved, things clicked.  With them, it was as if we had known each other for years and therefore could converse pretty much about anything. 

But why did we connect?  There are, no doubt, many reasons, yet I will name two.  First, I think that we all had a mutual respect for each other.  There was no fear.  Neither was there an attempt to be better than the other.  There was a simple humility that said, “You are important and I am going to respect you and what you say.”  Second, I believe, is that there’s a willingness and ability to listen. (To learn more about how to listen, examine How to Improve Your Listening Skills.)

Many years ago, as a seventh grader and new to a town in New Jersey, I wanted to know how I could make friends.  In one of our required hours at the school library, I noticed a book that grabbed my attention.  Now that was rare because I had not yet learned to enjoy reading.  The book was How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  The biggest thing I gleaned from that popular and informative book was the value and importance of listening.  From that time on, listening is a premium quality worth owning.

A few years ago, preparing to teach a leadership class on the subject of communication, I came across another good book. Listen Up by Barker and Watson. It is well worth absorbing.  It is from this book that I write the rest of this.

One of the reasons why I (we) have not often been able to find those enriching engagements is because most people are poor listeners.  The Bible is informative on this subject, as is Listen Up. Here are a few reasons for poor listening:

* they never learned good skills for listening

* they learned skills from bad behaviors taught or modeled by others

* laziness (for it takes work to hear a person out)

* mental deficiency or disorder

* mental fatigue

* talking too much so as not to give others the chance to talk

However, it seems the most common reason is due to pride.  Pride of the arrogant, even hubris type.  Pride carries the belief and attitude that what another person has to say is unimportant. Pride says that I know enough or more, so I have no reason to hear you.  Arrogance says that I am more important, so I will not waste my effort or time on you.

Pride also practices irritating habits.  Listen Up lists only the top ten (Barker and Watson, p. 88) but they are worth mentioning:

1. Interrupting the speaker.

2. Not looking at the speaker.

3. Rushing the speaker and making him feel that he’s wasting the listener’s time.

4. Showing interest in something other than the conversation.

5. Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing her thoughts.

6. Not responding to the speaker’s requests.

7. Saying, “Yes, but…,” as if the listener has made up his mind.

8. Topping the speaker’s story with “That reminds me…” or “That’s nothing, let me tell you about…”

9. Forgetting what was talked about previously.

10. Asking too many questions about details.

What I seem to encounter most often by certain people is the habit of disconnecting within the first few words of a discussion.  Their eyes get this glazed-over look revealing they have changed their mental channel.  On occasion, I’ll start a conversation in one direction and jump to something completely unrelated just to see if there’s any reaction.  There rarely is.  I’ve been told that’s mean but who is really being mean?  

The other thing frequently encountered is being cut off while speaking.  Oh, pardon me, but was I talking?  The third most annoying thing that often happens is when someone will tell you something, usually having to do with her or his life, and when you begin to sympathize by talking about something similarly encountered, they ignore what you say and continue talking about their thing or life.  What they are communicating is that you are merely present to receive their stories, challenges, woes, or self-interests.

Those irritating habits are certainly annoying.  What’s more, they are denigrating and at times humiliating.  Like the pride from which they flow, they tell say that you or I am unimportant, unworthy of being in their presence.  So, my response, good or not, is to leave or if it’s someone who is known to have these irritating habits then I just merely refuse to engage, and if possible to avoid altogether.  Nearly everyone who comes to mind who regularly does these things do not even seem to care whether anyone is listening.  They’ll talk and talk and talk.  Perhaps it’s because they are the only ones they will listen to?

Frankly, bad listening negates relationships.  Bad listening will not allow for the dance of caring engagements or the melody and rhythm of beautiful dialogs.  Indeed, bad listening often destroys established relationships, be they friendships, marriages, or familial ties.  For all those reasons, I really, really hate bad listening.  It’s torture.  My worst nightmare would be that I would end up in Hell for eternity and Hell would be a place where you are among a dozen close relatives or supposed friends who are all perpetually talking but no one is listening.  I am there but functionally invisible.  Perhaps I hate bad listening most of all because it steals the slightest opportunity to have a precious, rewarding, life-enhancing discourse and exchange.  It’s like going to a dinner and being served a plate of rotting, putrid fish when you know that the possibility exists for having your favorite dish.  Can you relate?

So what to do?  Bad listeners, can, with desire, determination, training and a good measure of humility, become effective and good listeners.  The authors of Listen Up tell us that good and effective listeners have these common characteristics (Barker and Watson, p. 108):

1. patient

2. caring

3. loving

4. understanding

5. selfless

6. attentive

7. poised

8. generous

9. open-minded

10. thoughtful

11. intelligent

12. empathic

13. involved

Not surprisingly, most of these qualities are presented in biblical Scriptures (but that’s for another time).

The authors help us by giving us strategies for improving our listening skills (Listen Up, pp. 109 ff).  Of course, they provide details, but allow me, if you will, to highlight their four main points.

1. Know when to be silent and when to speak. 

Counselors have used a very simple technique, particularly with couples who are having a difficult time communicating.  They give one partner an object, such as a ball.  S/he then has the right to speak.  When s/he has made the point s/he gives the object to the other person and that person speaks.  The first partner is now obligated to keep quiet and work at listening.  When the second partner has had his or her say, the object goes back to the other.  And so it goes.  Simple, but effective training tool to develop the skill of when to speak and when to be silent.

2. “Put a lid on it.” 

Keep emotions under control.  This is certainly a useful strategy in formal or business relationships.  I would say, though, that when people know how to communicate well (which involves effective listening), then emotions become a natural part of the dialogical dance.  For example, loving and Christ-like relationships are supposed to have the ability to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12).  In other words, to have and show empathy.  Otherwise, the authors have an excellent point and they suggest the following “tips to stop emotions from taking over:”

1. Be aware in advance of people and topics that trigger emotions.

2. Analyze why you react to some words and ideas emotionally.

3. Resist the temptation to get defensive.

4. Empathize and remember that the speaker may have different meanings for words than you do.

5. Withhold judgments until the speaker is finished.

3. Show interest. 

It takes a basic level of humility and care to develop this.   The authors say we can show interest by remembering what was said in previous conversations, remembering their names, using eye contact effectively, and making it easy for others to talk.  What they mean by that is consciously doing what often happens naturally when a good rapport has been established:  nod your head, keep eye contact, lean forward, do not interrupt, and casually mimic the other person’s body language (don’t overdo this or make it obnoxiously obvious).

4. Finally, use paraphrasing and reflecting skills. 

This means repeating back to the other person what you hear them saying so as to gain a healthy level of understanding. 

So what’s the point of all this? 

Listen!  Selfish pigs (and people too) don’t listen.  Prideful ones have no room for others and so they will live in their own little world oblivious to the reality of other worlds where people genuinely engage one another in a way that is healthy, helpful, caring, and of mutual benefit.  They are deaf to the music of mutual concern, benefit, and affection.  Listen!  Because of the rich rewards good listening can reap for you, for others and for society.  Listen!  Because of the potential for developing and enhancing relationships.  But most importantly, for those who name the name of Jesus, listen!  Listen - because he has spoken and is speaking, and calls us to hear.  Listen, because we are called to have loving sympathy, even empathy for others.  Listen, because he first listened.  Listen, so that you can dance his dance.

What do you think?  How good are you at listening?  Do you need help improving your listening skills to become more effective with others?  If so, contact me if you want solutions. 


In the meantime, if you have not already read these books, consider purchasing your copy and applying what they give.  You'll improve your life if you do.

21 Ways to Communicate Effectively

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Have you ever considered how effective your communication is?  We can always improve our ability to communicate, so here are 21 ways to communicate effectively.

Here are some tips to improve communication to help reduce misunderstandings or conflicts and to increase positive and helpful interactions:

1. Take time to think before speaking.

Saying the wrong thing, even at the right time, can seriously injure a person. Think, for example, of a doctor misspeaking an order for medication that turns out to be wrong and hurts her patient. Saying the wrong thing in a court of law could send an innocent person to jail for a long, long time.  Since words have such power, it is very important how we communicate.  Therefore, take time to listen, be careful how you answer and take time before speaking.

A person’s style of speaking offers clues to their underlying ability to listen deeply. During moments of genuine connection, what we say will be responsive to what the other feels, says, and does. When we are poorly connected, however, our communications become verbal bullets: our message does not change to fit the other person’s state but simply reflects our own. Listening makes the difference. Talking at a person rather than listening to him reduces a conversation to a monologue.
— Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence


2. Be slow to speak and quick to listen.

Take time to focus on what the other person is doing and saying. Most of us hear but do not really listen.  We tend to focus our minds on what we are going to say or how we will answer rather than focusing upon and understanding what the speaker is trying to communicate.  Check out How to Improve Your Listening Skills.

3.  Speak to help the listener.

Communicate with the intention of helping the listener.  There are many reasons why people talk. Sometimes it's merely to test the relationship, as often happens with small talk.  There are those who think out loud, so as a listener you just happen to be present as they are trying to process their thoughts. Other times it's to present information, for whatever the reason. Still other occasions the speaker is communicating a need for an answer or assistance.

If it's small talk then you can help the listener by presenting something to the conversation that brings value to it and the other person. If you are not sure what the point of the talk is, then simply and politely ask for clarification.  Such a thing can be very helpful with someone who presents something that might be a need.  A good habit to get into in scenarios like that is to ask, "Are you telling me this to bounce ideas off of me or because you are asking me for my help?" For more insight, take a look at this article in Forbes: 5 Questions You Can Ask Instead of 'How Are You?'  Better yet, consider how eliminating small talk is better for you and can increase your happiness.

Regardless of the situation, try to keep in mind how listening to the speaker can bring value to the other person and to the engagement.

4.  Speak with straightforwardness.

We often tend to play games with people by not being open and honest.  This is a practice for those who have learned to be passive aggressive. However, the people we admire the most are those who are honest and truthful. Men or women considered to be leaders, or have charisma, or are given high respect are those who can speak with candor.

Speaking candidly does not mean speaking harshly, rudely or in a way that can harm. Learning to speak the truth with tact or finesse will give you freedom in your ability to work with people and reward you with positive regard from others.

5.   Be aware that non-verbal communication is always at work.

Non-verbal communication may speak louder than words, but they are not as distinct as words. Non-verbal communication includes:

  • Body language and posture
  • Facial expressions
  • Dress and clothing
  • Behavior. In fact, all behavior is communication.

6.  Recognize the three "V's" in spoken communication: 

  • Verbal - is obviously the spoken word. However, as William Vermeulen pointed out in his seminars, "Most people concentrate only on the verbal element assuming this to be the message when it is only part of the whole message."
  • Vocal - which includes the intonation, projection, and resonance.
  • Visual: what people see when you communicate, such as motion and expression of your body and face. Visual images convey conscious and unconscious messages. Body language can have the effect of positively enhancing your speech or significantly diminishing it.

7.   Be careful to use the right words at the right time.

As the saying goes, "Say what you mean and mean what you say."  It is very important to understand that words have power.  A good habit to get into is thinking through what you intend to say to be sure that is indeed what you mean to say.  The level of verbal precision is based on the level of importance at the moment.  Obviously, a major in the military will need to speak with precision when ordering an assault on the enemy; whereas there is hardly a need for verbal precision when playing tag with your daughter.   At the same time, saying the right thing at the wrong time can damage the situation or the relationship.

Saying the right words at the right time can do more than just make a person feel good in the moment. It can have an impact that is positive and lasting.
— Dr. John C. Maxwell & Les Parrot in 25 Ways to Win with People


8.   When needed, be firm but tactful.

Learn to use words that are firm but diplomatic even when correcting opponents.  You can be truthful without being tacky.

9.   Make good use of questions.

The person who asks the questions is often the person in control of the conversation.  However, control isn’t necessarily the objective.  Rather, using good questions will get to the heart of the issue and help engage people in the process of dialog and communication.  Ask until there is clarification by using the “who-what-when-where-how" and sometimes "why” questions.

10. Look for teachable moments, clarification, or self-discovery. 

Do this by stopping the other person at critical points and asking what he or she is thinking.

11. Look for the moment of silent registry.

This is the moment at which a person seems to freeze and ponder what is being said.  That is often the place at which the person(s) is engaged, something you have said has hit a chord and resonated with her or him.

 However, don't use silence to frustrate the other person.  If the conversation is becoming more difficult than you are able to bear at that time, then explain why you are hesitant to talk and then close the discussion.

12.  Find out in advance what an arranged conference is about.

If you are asked to meet with someone and you suspect it is not merely for a fun or social occasion, then ask if the other person to do you the courtesy of telling you in advance the purpose of the meeting.

13.  Record important matters.

In some contexts, this is crucial such as when personally meeting an opponent or antagonist, or during a very important committee or team meeting.  Winston Churchill was a stickler for this practice.  One of his maxims was, “I am a strong believer in transacting official business by the written word...Let it be clearly understood that all directions emanating from me are made in writing, or should be immediately confirmed in writing and that I do not accept responsibility for matters relating to national defense, on which I am alleged to have given decisions unless they are recorded in writing.” (Stephen Hayward, Churchill on Leadership; p. 110)

14. Regularly communicate plans and decisions to those who need to know.

15. Do not permit interruptions.

People who interrupt do so for a variety of reasons, few of which bring value to or enhance the conversation.  Some interrupt because they are not listening.  They need to listen or your time and energy are wasted.  Some interrupt because they have little respect for you or others in the conversation.  When they are like that, it's a matter of contempt for you.  There can hardly be a mutually beneficial interchange when there is little to no respect.  They need to be respectful.  Some interrupt because they are too arrogant to believe you have anything of interest or importance to share.  They need a measure of humility to be able to interact with others in any useful and meaningful way.

Should the other person continue to interrupt, then end the conversation and walk away.  

16. Do not let unresolved matters go unanswered.

Rarely do unresolved matters simply go away.  Often times these issues come back to haunt your relationship later on.  If you are unable to resolve any challenges during your conversation then make an appointment to discuss it later.  It is usually best to make that very matter the singular priority of your follow-up talk.

17. Use paraphrasing.

If a matter is important enough then paraphrase back what was said or have your listener(s) paraphrase back to you what you have said.  This can be a valuable tool to determine if there is an acceptable understanding between the parties.  It can be helpful to make sure you are understanding what is said by rephrasing what the other person said and asking him or her if that is what indeed was said or meant.

18. Summarize meetings.

 In meetings, take time at the end to summarize what was covered and who is assigned various tasks.

19. Get help when communicating with another person is difficult.

If you consistently have difficulty communicating with another person then enlist the help of one or two others to help improve communication.  Often times this can resolve the challenge between regularly conflicted people.  Be aware that it does not always mean there will be a resolution.

20. Give the big picture, but do not overuse generalizations.

Follow abstract concepts with concrete examples.  As communication specialists advise: paint a verbal picture and connect the dots.

21. Get rid of distractions.

Be intentional about putting away things that can rob your conversation of the level of value it deserves. Turning off your cell phone, closing your tablet or computer, taking the earpiece(s) off your head are ways to do this. Not only can you not give mindful attention to the discourse with other things vying for your mind's attention, these distractions actually demonstrate to others that they are not important enough to have a meaningful conversation.

On the positive side, there are benefits when you put away anything that can intrude upon your discourse with others. Benefits include, but not limited to:

  • Being able to converse in a more meaningful way.
  • Showing mutual respect, which has a strong probability of elevating your relationship.
  • Increasing the chances of actually getting something accomplished.
  • You are able to better focus on each other and upon the topic or agenda.
  • You can remember the conversation and most likely the salient points at a later time.


These are only a few tips to improve communication that could reduce misunderstandings or conflicts and increase positive and helpful interactions.  What would you add to this?


Dr. Don

Some resources you might find helpful:

How to Improve Your Listening Skills

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What is listening?

“Listening is the process of receiving, attending to, and assigning meaning to aural and visual stimuli.”
— Dr. Paine in Listen Up! by Tony Valdes
  Listening well means “hearing the person out and then responding, in a mutual dialogue.”
— Daniel Goleman in What Makes a Leader


1. There is a difference between hearing and listening.

According to Dr. Paine, hearing is “a biological function, and like breathing or blinking it happens whether you are consciously telling yourself to do it or not.”  Listening, on the other hand, “a mental process…that requires thought, effort, and practice.”

2. Listening is an acquired but very important skill.

Tony Valdes points out that of the different kinds of communication, 

  • “Writing is a skill that is used about 9% of the average person’s daily communication.”
  • Reading, which takes “between six and eight years of formal instruction…accounts for 16% of our communication.”
  • Speaking “receives a paltry one year of attention, perhaps two years if we’re lucky, and it is only 30% of our communication.”
  • While listening, “often receives less than a half-year of formal training, and yet it makes up 45% of our daily communication.” 

What is the Value of Listening Well?

1. For the Christian, Listening well honors God

We were created to be listening creatures, not merely hearing creatures.

A key trait of a true believer in Jesus Christ is one who listens to Jesus’ voice (John 10:25-27).

God puts a greater premium on listening and hearing than he does upon talking.

a.  We are admonished to hear God and his Word, because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

·      Read Deuteronomy 6:3-4 

·      Proverbs 8:34 – Blessed is the man who listens to me…

·      Proverbs 15:31 – He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will live among the wise.

·      Luke 8:15 – And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in                 an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

b.  God wants us to listen well

·  Ecclesiastes 5:1 – Guard your steps as you go to the house of God, and draw near to listen rather     than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.

·  James 1:19 – This you know, my beloved brothers. But let everyone be quick to listen, slow to           speak and slow to anger.


2The character of a wise person is one who listens well and speaks little.

       Listening well:

a.     Is a quality of someone who has understanding and discernment.

b.     Is a sign of mental and emotional maturity.

c.     Is necessary for healthy social relationships.

d.     Is an aspect and demonstration of authentic love.

e.     Helps to understand the other person and what s/he is saying.


3. Listening well brings value to any relationship. This is key!

a.     It shows respect and fosters a relationship for mutual respect.

b.     It is a key factor for influencing others in a positive way.

c.     It strengthens relationships by developing trust.

d.     It can aid in discovering who and what others are.

e.     It is a significant trait of those who are considered trustworthy, respectable and/or one who has a charismatic personality.

People listen, not necessarily because of the truth being communicated in the message, but because of their respect for the speaker.
— Dr. John Maxwell in Ultimate Leadership


4. Listening well is crucial for resolving interpersonal conflicts.


5. The discipline of listening well sharpens your mind.


6. It is a key ingredient to promotion or success in your work-a-day world.


7. Listening is a key ingredient for all healthy, intimate relationships.



What are the Characteristics of Well-Listeners?

     In Listen Up, Barker and Watson point out that well-listeners  have these characteristics:                

  • Patient        Caring        Loving        Understanding        Selfless
  • Attentive     Poised        Generous    Open-minded         Thoughtful
  • Intelligent   Empathic    Involved

     Looking over these traits, which one of them do you believe to be your strong suits?  Would your       close friend, partner, or spouse agree with you?


Where Are You On the Listening Continuum?

Starting on page 192 of The Eighth Habit by Stephen R. Covey, the author brings out the lowest and highest levels of listening.  A person can exercise any one of these levels in any given circumstance.  However, as a habit, people tend toward one or two of these levels.  

1. Ignoring

      This is the lowest level and is when you are physically present, but mentally absent                           or deliberately unengaged.

2. Pretend listening  

       Pretending to listen is patronizing.  It is the very basic skill of supposedly listening to someone           but as Tony Valdes points out, we "hear the words but are emotionally and mentally detached           from the speaker."

       There are many reasons for this: lack of respect for the speaker, being distracted and not focused         on the person and what is being said, or having little to no interest in the content of the talk. 

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing personal opinion.
— Proverbs 18:2

3. Selective listening

       This kind of listening happens from our own perspective and presuppositions, which would               include our family background, culture, habits, personality, and what we choose to receive                 from the speaker.

       Another tendency is to listen with the anticipation of answering or responding to the speaker.           In other words, thinking more about what we are going to say than about what is being said.

4. Attentive listening


5. Empathic listening

       This is the highest level of listening.  It is the kind of listening that gives the speaker your                   undivided attention. You are listening in order to understand the content and message as well           as to allow the other person to “feel felt.”  For clarity on what this means, check out

      6 Steps to Making Another Person Feel Felt.

       When relating with another person the goal is to engage with attentive and/or empathic                      listening most of the time.


Apply Strategies to Improve Your Listening Skills


1.  Know when to be silent and when to speak.

Be quick to hear and slow to speak.
— Proverbs 15:23, 28

a.     A healthy and good conversation is a dance, meaning there is a good ebb and flow with             speaking, listening, and silence.

b.     Learn to discern when to speak and when to listen.

(1)   Every person is different when it comes to how things are said and when they are              spoken.  Each develops her or his own rhythm, tone, pace, and expressions.

(2)   Identify what the purpose is for the conversation.

                          If you cannot figure out what the point fo the conversation is, simply ask. Here are                            typical reasons and characteristics for when people talk:

·      Surface talk – an introductory way to get to know the other person.

·      Casual talk – a dialog for general discussions.

·      Talk to talk – some people think out loud and seem to have a “need” to talk to         someone.  For examples or what the Bible says about this, see Job 11:2; 16:3;           Eccles. 5:3; 6:11; 10:14)

·      Talk to inform – this is when the speaker is talking in order to provide you                with information s/he believes is of value, whether it is or not.

·      Talk to process – this is where the person needs or wants someone to listen in           order for them to process their thoughts. They are not necessarily looking for           advice, answers or input because it helps them to think out loud.

·     Talk for help – this is when someone is intentionally seeking your help in                 resolving a challenge, whether it is large or small.

(3)   Use silence effectively:

  • Some ways to use silence:
    • Pause a few seconds before responding.
    • Accept silence as a normal part of conversations.
    • To balance speaking and listening time during conversations.
    • To break eye contact momentarily to allow others to feel comfortable with silence
  • If possible, understand or interpret the silence:
    • It could mean the other person is thinking or processing what was said.
    • It could signal negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or fear.
    • It could possibly mean it’s time for silence - a time to reflect or rest.


2.   “Put a lid on it” - keep your emotions under control.

 Taking this material from Listen Up (pp. 109ff), here are some tips to stop emotions from taking over:

a.  Be aware in advance of the people and topics that trigger your emotions.

        b.   Analyze why you emotionally react to some words and ideas. Identify what your hot                          buttons are.

        c.   Resist the temptation to be defensive.

According to Daniel Goleman, this is responding “by denying, covering up, or passing on the blame.”     

d.  Empathize with the speaker.

e.  Remember that the speaker may have different meanings for words than you do. Clarify           when necessary.

f.   Withhold judgments until the speaker is finished.  Keep an open mind and seek to understand by withholding your own prejudices about the person or the topic of conversation.

3. If at all possible, remove distractions.

What kinds of distractions might there be?

          (This is from the article Listen Up! Part 2 by Tony Valdes)

a.     External noises.

b.     Psychological activity (worry, self-consciousness, or preoccupation).

c.     Physical conditions (temperature, odors, lighting, visual distractions, and more).

d.     Physiological conditions (pain, hunger, fatigue).

e.     Semantic distractions (dialects, accents, unfamiliar vocabulary).

f.      Technological distractions (the urge to check your phone, surf the net).

4. Show interest in the other person and what is being said.

To read what the Bible says about this, check out Proverbs 18:2, 13, 15; Philippians 3:15,16;   and James1:19).

a.    Listen across time (remember what they have said in previous conversations).

b.    Note, that if the other person(s) believes you are not interested in them then they will               rarely remember anything you have said to them.  Showing interest develops respect, trust         and a potential for a deeper relationship.

c.    Show interest by remembering people’s names. Here’s how:

(1)  Repeat the name immediately after you hear it.

(2)   Use the name within thirty seconds after you hear it.

(3)   Associate the name with something or someone familiar.

(4)   Collect business cards (virtual or real) of the people you meet and review them later.

(5)   Write names down as soon as possible after hearing them.

d.      Use eye contact effectively.

e.       Make it easy for others to talk.

 Make good use of tracking.  This is behaviors that help others keep on track (nodding head, keeping good eye contact, don’t interrupt, leaning forward, using prompting phrases such as “go ahead” or “and then”, etc.)

5. Use paraphrasing or reflecting skills

a.       This means you repeat back by rewording what you hear them say, which is often                      helpful.  Saying something like, “Let me see if I understand what you said. I heard you              say…”  can be helpful.

b.       Sometimes, repeating verbatim what was said and then putting it into the form of a                  question can be effective.

6.   Make good use of questions

a.       Keep in mind that the person who is asking the question(s) is the person who controls              the conversation.

b.       Questions help to draw from the other person her or his information, needs, story, and             the like.  A good mnemonic for getting to know someone better is the acronym,                        FRIEND

F – family (What was your family like growing up? Tell me about your family.)

R – recreation (Do you enjoy sports? what fun activities do you like?)

I – interests (hobbies, activities, books, or movies).

E – education (“Where did you go to school?” “Are you in school now?”)

N – needs  (is there anything you need or anything we can help you with?)

 D – dessert or dinner (would you like to come over or get together for dinner, dessert,           or coffee?)

c.   Using tactful, engaging questions can be an effective means for getting shy or introverted          people to dialog with you.

d.   Good questions help you focus upon the discussion and remain engaged.

e.   Good questions often help clarify the matter or topic of discussion.


7.   Do not interrupt the speaker unless it is necessary

a.  Do not give an answer until the other person has finished talking. (Proverbs 18:13)

b.  “Interruptions devalue the speaker and her or his message. It is often rude and offensive.”         (Tony Valdes)

c.   It is necessary to interrupt if the person is hijacking or dominating the conversation, such          as in a meeting or social gathering.

d.   It is necessary when it is time to leave.

  •   Set your boundaries and do not let the other person control your time.
  • Set your boundaries in meetings by a prearranged agreement for a time to start and stop.

e.   It is necessary when you have other obligations.

f.   It is necessary when there is an urgent need or emergency.


8.  Listen with your whole body

a.   Positive engagement includes such things as:

(1)   Good eye contact

(2)   Verbal affirmations

(3)   Nodding your head or mirroring the speaker’s body language

(4)   Leaning into the discussion or toward the speaker

(5)   Taking notes

(6)   Asking questions

b.    Negative engagement includes:

(1)   Little to no eye-contact.

(2)   Closing off your own body language (crossed arms, legs, leaning away, or using gestures that are culturally offensive).

(3)   Trying to “multitask.”  Research shows that less than 10% of people can truly multitask.

(4)   Not speaking with the other person or responding to her or him appropriately.


9. Listen in a way that will allow you to give an appropriate response.

Seek to understand – which means think before speaking and then respond.


10. If you are having a hard time listening, then excuse yourself.

a.  Be truthful, but diplomatic why you need to leave the discussion (having a hard time concentrating, too tired, have other things to attend to, etc.)

b.   If the conversation is important enough then make a commitment to follow up at a better time.

Are you a well-listener?  How do you know?  Would others agree with you?

Was any of this helpful?  Let me know what you think or if you have need of help in this area of your life.  

Before you leave, take a look at these books mentioned in the article, which are available on Amazon:

Ultimate Leadership
By John Maxwell

Why You Might Want to Step Away from the Critic

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Why step away from the critic?

What do you do when a critic shoots his stinging quill at you? How do you handle the criticism you know is intended to beat you into submission? How do you take it when the critic sets off rapid-fire darts filled with venom designed to destroy you?

One of the first things to do is to step away from the critic!  

Here are five ways to do that:

1. When the barb first hits you, do and say nothing in response.

Learn to resist the impulse to react or respond.  There are many reasons why critics shoot their poison. Some of those reasons include:

  • They want to control you through negativity.
  • They are trying to find a way to elevate themselves above you. Their own insecurity seeks to verify their worth by setting themselves up as the standard of measurement.
  • They are expressing their own anxieties and hurts. Remember, hurting people hurt others.
  • They live in a cloud of negativity or anger, so it only feels natural to them to be negative and critical.
  • They thrive on drama. A calm, peaceful, or positive environment is uncomfortable and perhaps even boring for them, therefore being critical stirs up drama.
  • They have learned to believe that the best way to motivate others to get things done is through criticism.
  • They have a mental illness.

You will need to arm yourself with the fact that there are multiple reasons why the critic is the way he is. The important thing to realize is that unless you are equipped to discover the root of the critic’s problem and they are willing to have you sort through their own pile of stuff, it’s really not worth your time or hassle to figure out what’s behind their comments. Get into the practice of telling yourself,  The criticism says much more about the criticizer than it does about you.  Memorize something helpful that you can bring to mind and focus upon when the reproach is spewed upon you; something like,  accept criticism as a reflection of the critic's soul and not as the truth about you as a whole!

Accept criticism as a reflection of the critic’s soul and not as the truth about you as whole!
— Dr. Don Owsley


Remaining calm, even if they’ve hit a sensitive spot in your heart, will help you take control away from him and help to clean off the barf later on. Remaining calm may even bring a level of peace to the situation thereby creating an atmosphere conducive to resolving the problem (if there really is one) at hand.

Present the aura of fortified resiliency. Sit or stand tall, lift up your chin, look the critic in the eye, put on a poker face (even with a hint of a smile), and do not respond. Be the oak resisting the storm. Be the brick house withstanding the wolf’s blowhard puffs.  Then, the best thing to say if they demand that you respond is to simply say, “I’ll think about what you just said.”  Your response will come later.

2. If they are in a hostile tirade, step away.

Yes, physically step away! If you have not already learned how to be courageous then discover how. Read books or articles about it. Find a coach, talk with a counselor, or seek out a true friend who knows how to be tactful yet firm in the face of verbal attacks. Take classes that will elevate your confidence and train you to be bold. Come to understand and take hold of the value you have as a person. The critic might have more authority than you, but they hold no more value than you do. No boss, no peer, no parent, no person has the right to treat you like trash.

Hostile tirades are the diarrhea of a bully’s soul. You are not a commode and therefore are not designed to receive such shipoopi. Just as you would not be willing to stand under someone’s dump so you ought not to be willing to stand under their verbal excrement. Critical tirades are abusive and therefore harmful.

Even if you might be boiling on the inside, you can be composed on the outside. You not only have the right but you also have a duty to yourself to remove yourself from the attack. Here are a few suggested ways:

  • Calmly and firmly tell the antagonist you will not tolerate the abuse, and then walk away.
  • With a stern and bold stance, with a voice loud enough for him to hear but not at a volume as to be yelling, tell the person his manner and criticism is unacceptable and when he is ready to talk in a mature manner with a helpful critique you will be willing to listen. Then walk away.
  • Often times, if his behavior is habitual the best thing to do is turn around and leave. You might have to go to a place that is safe, generally around other people, especially if you are confident those people are your allies.
  • If the situation is rather threatening and removing yourself from it becomes most difficult then respond with a warning that you will immediately call security or the police or someone who has the authority to disarm the attacker. Or, simply call for help without warning the antagonist.

The point is- there are ways to take yourself out of the boxing ring. You ought to be aware that those who are in the habit of hurling verbal vomit will only continue to do so if you allow it. Such people need to be stopped. Oh, and by the way, do NOT make excuses for the person’s negative, critical behavior.

3. When someone criticizes you, practice mental pause.

This means being intentional and deliberate about not taking the bait and getting lured into an argument but taking time out to think about what was said.  What are some things to think about?

  • Whether the source of the criticism is worthy of your time.  If the person is chronically petty then their words, however caustic or strong or loud, are probably worth .000001 seconds of brain energy.  If the verbal assault is coming from someone of considerable influence or importance then it’s most likely that you should take at least one-fourth of a moment to think about whether there is any truth to the criticism.
  • Whether the criticism is true or false.  If the criticism is valid and the sting of it rings true, then take the time to reflect on it for the purpose of making a healthy, positive change. In other words, translate the criticism into a meaningful critique. See it as an opportunity for personal growth.
  • Pause to think about how others have perceived and received criticism. Here are some illustrations or quotes to tuck into your mental belt:
    • “Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” – Les Brown
    • “Growth always comes from taking action, and taking action almost always brings criticism.” – John Maxwell
    • “Don’t let critics set your agenda.” – Rudolph Giuliani
    • “Criticism…carries the unspoken implication that we would have done much better than what has been done, without us ever having to demonstrate whether we could or not.” – Tom Marshall
    • “No matter how personal the attack, your response should be aimed entirely toward advancing the goals of those you serve. Theodore Roosevelt recommended that a leader continues to ‘fight his way forward’ in the face of ‘unfair and ungenerous criticism,’ ‘paying only so much regard…as is necessary to enable him to win in spite of them.'” – James M. Strock

Practicing mental pause also gives you the opportunity to respond well. Responding well means being emotionally mature, mentally sound, and personally prepared to give an appropriate rejoinder.  There is a big difference between being defensive and defending yourself. More on that subject at another time.

“Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”
— Les Brown

4. When hit with criticism take a time out to check out your buttons.

In this case, a button is something about which you are sensitive. It is a touchy area of your life.  Some people are naturally super sensitive, and may even be sensitive about their sensitivity! Others have the emotional sensitivity like the hide of a crocodile. What emotionally impacts you probably isn’t something that affects me or anyone else. We are all different in this way.

How we develop those buttons depends upon our physiological makeup. We receive certain mental, emotional and social quotients and proclivities from our biological parents (some say about 40%).  How we developed those buttons also depend upon our positive and negative experiences, training, encounters, coming out of a variety of geographical and social environments, and the like. All of these things make us who we are.

There are different types of buttons, but let’s name just three:

  • Guilt – something about which you are genuinely guilty. You have violated a norm, law, or some social value.  In this case, find a way to resolve it.
  • Shame – a sense of humiliation, or a loss of respect and esteem. Often times we have learned from others to feel shame even though we may not (some say hardly ever) be guilty of anything wrong. If this is the case, then revise your perspective.
  • Fear – is anxiety or apprehension that often comes from a threatening experience; a sense you are being threatened. In this case reform your life. Learn how not to be as fearful and to be fearful in a healthy manner.

If you have such buttons that are easily pushed or have identified emotional triggers, something criticism can bring to light, then find healthy ways to address them, correct them, and perhaps remove them.

5. Step away from counterfeit capital but step toward what is valuable.

Take the criticism for what it is worth. As they say “consider the source.” There are occasions when we give capital to the critic even when the critic brings little to no value to our own lives.  It’s a curious thing we do as people when we desire someone’s approval. In our own minds, we give a place value to them and their opinions.  A feisty little two-year-old we do not even know who makes some passing criticism about the shoes we are wearing will not have much capital.  In other words, her snarky comment is rather inconsequential.

However, if we put a premium on another person’s view of us because we think he or she is highly valued (popular girl in school, a famous actor, the handsome athlete everyone adores, the big brother, special cousin, the boss, etc.), or because of what we think he or she can give to us (a better reputation, money, significance, and so forth) then what that person says through criticism will probably be emotionally painful.  We want their acceptance, accolades, appreciation, affection, and all other things that start with an ‘a’. We assign an arbitrary price tag on their view of us. If in our minds, such-and-so is highly regarded or has high value for us but she rebuffs, rejects, or criticizes then we have an unfair trade:  our valuation is exchanged for dirt.

Yet, here is the irony:  if you or I do not give that other person that kind of emotional or social capital then they cannot effectively push those buttons. The more value you give them in your mind the more painful their rebuff or criticism will be.  Ultimately, when you have a sound and healthy perspective about yourself and life you will recognize that you have the power to place whatever value you desire to their opinions.

I am not advocating you treat them as non-entities. To do that is to bring yourself on their dirt-cheap level. Treat others as having value as persons, but do not give them a value that is undeserved or to be merely exchanged for what you want.

Find true value in what is truly valuable. Focus your life on that. Exchange the criticism for that which can help you improve, to make positive change, and to grow into someone who brings greater value to yourself and for the positive benefit of others.

When you encounter a critical person and become the target of their verbal arrows, one of the first things to do is to step away from that critic.  We’ve seen five ways to do that. Stepping away physically, mentally, emotionally and the like, is important; but it does not resolve the issues(s) at hand. I am not advocating a position of removing yourself from the critic hoping that he or she will just take her biting remarks and go away.  Critical people rarely ever do.  Stepping away from the critic is the first of several steps toward bringing about a healthy change to yourself, to the situation, and perhaps even to the relationship with the critic.

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- Dr. Don

10 Reasons Why Won't They Understand

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Why won’t they understand?  Why don’t they get it?  Why can’t they just listen to me?

When was the last time you were seeking helpful advice, affirmation, empathy, or help but received anything except that?  I know people who are afflicted with physical but not obvious ailments who have encountered unsolicited advice, condemnation, or no tangible help at all.  Take my friend who is hearing impaired. Like many others with “handicaps,” she has been treated poorly and accused of faking it just to “manipulate the system.”  I know others suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or Lyme disease who have been advised to try some magic potion, told they are lazy, or that those diseases do not exist.  Which reminds me of the times in the military when I had to go to the emergency room because of serious asthma attacks.  The physicians would tell me asthma was all in my head but would then administer an injection to open up my airways.

The problem of not being heard or believed almost always happens with those who have been abused.  The abused woman seeks help from church leaders but they won't accept her story.  Why? Because the husband is such a nice guy, or she doesn't look like she's hurt, or her husband says she tends to be on the dramatic side.  The abused man goes to his family because his wife screams, belittles and even hits him with things. They don't believe his story because women just don't do that or he is supposed to be in control like a strong man. 

Over the past several years, my family and I encountered several parents of adopted children with significantly negative behaviors.  Acting out, extreme defiance, abusing animals or other children, caught up in uncontrollable rage, or captured by wide mood swings are a few of the things these parents face.  Many are confused by these beyond-normal thoughts and actions.  Frustration and even desperation about what is going on with their child are common.  Like our experience, they have been ill-advised by therapists, come under suspicion by physicians, received countless and worthless advice from family or friends, threatened by school officials, or condemned by church members.  Observers seem to be unwilling to listen or unable to believe the stories these parents have.  So, they tend to accuse, condemn, give impractical advice, or distance themselves thus leaving the afflicted to drown.

Until we received gracious, wise, and viable counsel, the challenges my spouse and I faced with our child led us to doubt our sanity.  Those who had absolutely no clue what was going on with us had almost convinced us we were living in the Twilight Zone.  We began to believe the lie that we were the worst parents on earth.  After all, several people, including church leaders told us as much.  Now, after extensive counsel, help, and study, I say to those who pose as arm-chair advisors, judges, or barriers to viable support: stop it, shut up, or go away.  To those who really want to help but do not know how, I say thank you, thank you, thank you!  And then I add - be patient, listen carefully, and find tangible ways to support the family.

Back to the questions:  Why won’t they understand?  Why don’t they get it?  Why can’t they just listen to me?  After nearly twenty years of asking those questions and seeking out the answers, here are a few of the possible reasons.  Take note, none of these reasons are the singular cause for why others respond the way they do.  As you will see, the areas overlap.  Also, take note that you and I can be afflicted with one or more of these reasons when dealing with others so it is best to investigate our own souls first before we fall into the same faults.  Here are ten reasons:

1. YOU

The first thing to consider why someone won't understand or listen to you is your own life.  Is there anything about what you do or say that turns off others?  Do you have an offensive manner?  Are you a super needy, attention-seeker?  Is life all about you?  Are you known for bad listening skills or for a lack of empathy?  Would those who know you consider you toxic?

You see, before we get frustrated with how others receive or don’t receive us, we need to do some serious soul-searching and correct our own deficits and faults before expecting others to hear or help us out. 



It might seem rather obvious but people can be ignorant of your challenge.  They don’t know the disease exists, do not understand the handicap, or are unaware of the serious effects of early childhood abuse or neglect. 

Years ago, my allergies and asthma kept getting worse.  The various medications and steroid treatments were not working.  I was desperate for help.  Through providential circumstances, I found a clinic that used traditional modern medicine with alternative, natural treatments.  Turns out that yeast was the major culprit exacerbating my illness.  Admittedly, I was very skeptical but once a strict diet was observed and the prescribed regimen was followed, my allergies and asthma subsided to where medication was not needed on a regular basis.  My ignorance of other causes for the illnesses was a factor in not getting better.



A third possible reason why someone will not understand or listen to you is arrogance.  Arrogance or conceit is the overestimation or exaggerated opinion of oneself.  It often gets in the way of understanding, listening, or helping.  This is not the kind of pride that comes from a self-satisfaction over positive accomplishments.  Instead, this is what Dr. Guy Winch calls hubristic pride.  As he explains in his article, “Hubristic pride tends to involve egotism and arrogance.”  In the book, Understanding Leadership, Tom Marshall wrote, “...the evil of pride is that it gives us the exaggerated sense of our own importance or significance compared with other people.”  A more extreme type of conceit is narcissism or worse, the narcissistic personality disorder.

Arrogance lacks humility.  This, in turn, fosters the inability to receive anything from others whom the arrogant considers inferior.  Arrogance often believes other people lack value and so it follows what you think, say, or do also lack value in their estimation or of no importance.  It's not that they do not understand but that the arrogant will not understand. 

Further, those who lack humility tend to lack an open mind.  By this I mean they are unwilling to consider other ideas or things.  Such individuals are commonly plagued by the unwillingness or inability to even think about their own thinking!  They do not evaluate their own assumptions or perspectives much less seriously consider other positions.  While they find it easy to criticize your ideas, they just cannot seem to critique their own.

This is one cause why some people can hear you but do not listen.  In order to hear and listen, it takes an open mind and the ability to show an interest in another person.



Confidence is a healthy thing.  However, overconfidence is not.  Overconfidence is the sense of (almost) always being right.  For decades, psychologists have studied this phenomenon and recent brain studies have demonstrated how humans naturally tend to be overconfident in personal beliefs and decisions.  This is called the overconfidence bias.  As David Brooks tells us in The Social Animal, “The human mind is an overconfidence machine. The conscious level gives itself credit for things it really didn’t do and confabulates tales to create the illusion it controls things it really doesn’t determine” (Kindle loc. 3648).

This overconfidence is the feeling of being right.  The authors of The Brain Advantage write, “…the feeling of knowing can be so strong that it trumps logic and leads us to accept beliefs that we ought to be questioning" (Kindle loc. 1500). This often makes us “more confident than our expertise justifies, maybe because the ‘feeling of knowing’ assures us that we are right” (Kindle loc. 1522). 

There was a brilliant man in a church our family attended.  He was a scientist; a stereotypical Brainiac.  He made sure everyone else understood how very intelligent he was.  At one of our group lunches, someone brought up how important it is for an adult to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.  The scientist scoffed and declared no one drinks that much.  He knew this because he was rarely ever wrong and because he never drank that much.  When I said on most days I drink eight full glasses, he told me I was wrong.  I snapped back, “How do you know how much or little I drink each day?”  He said he just knew and that was all that mattered.

One consequence of feeling right is it becomes easy for us to question another perspective but rarely willing to question our own.  A more intense consequence is what psychologists call cognitive immunization.  This is when we have a hard time (impossible for some) to dismiss personally held beliefs in spite of obvious and tremendous evidence to the contrary. The problem of overconfidence is that it is nearly impossible to listen to what others are saying or to understand their situation.



Fear could be another reason why some people won’t listen or understand you.  Fear is a primary emotion.  In its positive use, fear acts as a safety valve to protect us from harm.  On the negative side, fear can be the underlying basis for caustic beliefs and behaviors such as anger, bitterness, denial, envy, hate, and hostility.

Those infected with chronic shame tend to fear other ideas.  Why?  One reason is that a shame-infected life provokes an abnormal degree of fear.  Merely considering something like, “What if I was wrong all these years?” sets off a cascade of negative emotions.  Or as Brene Brown points out in her extensive work on shame, some believe that if you are right, that must mean “I am wrong, so I must be fundamentally flawed and inadequate!” (see Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and other materials.)  The deeper one’s shame the greater the potential fear of other people’s perspectives.

When people are gripped with chronic fear, anything new or different could be intimidating.  For these frightened individuals, what you are, have, or say can feel very threatening.  In those situations, their level of sensitivity and fear can provoke the natural response of fight or flight.  Some of these folks are the ones who respond with yelling, screaming, or physically attacking you, or they simply run away.  And it could be about something you consider innocent and harmless.



Reactance is a psychological theory which states, “[W]henever someone tells us what to do and how to do it, we respond with a defensive defiance because we want to maximize our personal freedom and decision-making.”  Nearly all of us tend to react with defensive defiance to certain things that we are told we can or cannot believe or do.

Often times, the harder you try to convince someone else of your situation or knowledge of a given matter, that person will dig in her heels. 



As you may know, a worldview is what you believe about the world in which you live.  We all have a view of life filled with what we’ve learned and experienced.  At the core of a worldview are presuppositions.  A worldview becomes our paradigm for life, what makes sense of life, and our philosophy of being. 

Perhaps what you have experienced runs counter to another’s worldview?  For example, there are people who believe rape never happens to a good person.  Good things happen to good people and evil things happen to bad people.  If you’ve been raped or sexually abused in any way and you tell a person with such a rigid worldview, he may find your story cannot fit his paradigm.  If he believes that such bad thing like rape only happens to bad people, he may have to conclude you are a bad person.  He might reason that the evil perpetrated on you could not happen to a good person like you, it must not have happened at all.

Psychologists tell us we all have a propensity for confirmation bias.  Michael Roberto says this is “the tendency to gather and rely upon information that confirms our existing views while avoiding or discounting information that might disconfirm our existing hypothesis and opinions” (Roberto, p. 102).  So, consider the possibility those who reject your perspective or experience have a strong confirmation bias.

In my first year at college, a talented musician and artist who had retinitis pigmentosa became a good friend.  We attended the same college and enjoyed many of the same things.  His sight was very limited but he had learned to navigate in a way that made you wonder if he was really blind (you should see his paintings!)  Since he could not drive and I could, I would swing by his house and pick him up for school.  It was a privilege and a pleasure to do so.  We were friends, after all.

One day, an older relative of mine met my legally-blind friend.  My relative became very angry that I was giving him rides to school.  He thought my friend was a liar.  How could it be possible a Mexican was an artist?  Prejudiced much?  The relative also believed my friend wasn’t blind given how well he got around.  Mr. Prejudiced said I was being used as a taxi driver.  He insisted I give up this so-called friendship and never have anything to do with the young man again.  My relative had badly judged my friend through his own sad worldview.

For some of us who are firmly planted in a social group such as a club, church, or family, it can become unacceptable to have an idea, information, condition, or anything else that runs counter to what the group believes.  This “cultural mind” is called groupthink.  “According to social psychologist Irving Janis, groupthink is when a cohesive team experiences tremendous pressures for conformity, such that people strive for unanimity at the expense of critical thinking” (Roberto. p.38).

Many families who have adopted children diagnosed with developmental trauma, those who have been severely impacted by abuse, severe neglect, or trauma (such as Reactive Attachment Disorder) have encountered rejection from their group(s).  Why?  Because the child does not conform to acceptable patterns of behavior, which is often assumed to be the parents’ fault.  The parents are not conforming to the ways of the group, so various techniques are implemented to force conformity.  My wife and I have experienced them: name-calling, ridicule, threats of rejection, demands to make the child behave or turn her into a “good kid,” insistence on doing what the group requires, and so forth.

Our worldview also influences our expectations.  In their article, Baer and Lubin discuss the observer-expectancy effect. This is where “our expectations influence how we perceive an outcome.”  Certain people have very strong expectations about how things should be.  If your abuse, disease, perspective, child’s behaviors, or situation does not fit what they expect then you can probably expect negative responses.



Then there is our innate dislike for inconsistency.  Humans tend to loathe, even reject things that are inconsistent with their worldview.  We have a natural aversion to patterns that make no sense to us or that are hard for us to interpret.  The irony is that every one of us lives in our own little worlds of inconsistency but we become comfortable with that.  We become used to our little inconsistent world so it often becomes a challenge for many of us to handle anything outside of our sphere that doesn't square with our personal world.

It takes energy to make things fit.  It requires work to make sense of inexplicable patterns.  For some individuals, the effort is not worth it.  For them, it is easier to reject what is different or inconsistent than to deal with it.



There are many great books on the subject of change.  Two books I found very insightful are the Heath brothers’ Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard and Martin Seligman’s What You Can Change and What You Can’t.  So, I won’t take the time to discuss the many aspects of change and how the distaste for change affects our willingness to listen and understand other perspectives and situations.  Still, there are a few points to make:


Change is hard for us.  As Kennon L. Callahan says in his Effective Church Leadership,

Old ways die hard—and the second reason is that they are familiar and habitual.  Behavior patterns of any kind that have been ingrained and repeated for years upon years are not easily extinguished.  It is not simply that these behavior patterns have been consistently rewarded over and over during the past nearly forty years.  The rewards may have been diminishing over a long period of time.  But as long as the familiar and habitual behavior receives even occasional rewards or intermittent reinforcement, it will persist (p. 15).

As Chip and Dan Heath point out in Switch, change is hard because people wear themselves out with all the constant change in life (Kindle loc. 166).  People only have so much mental and emotional reserves to handle change.  If taking the effort to understand your health challenge or to try another way to discipline a child requires more energy than one has, then it likely won’t happen.

Further, to consider your trial or point-of-view can be a risk that would require change on their part.  People are disinclined to modify ideas and habits that have served them so well in the past.  You know, if the way my mama and daddy raised me was good enough for me then it’s good enough for anyone.  So, there’s no changing the way I parent.  Or if your physical disability has the potential to change your relationship with another person then it is possible that person will not pay the proverbial price for change.  Sadly, we see this happen time and again when a spouse develops a chronic, debilitating disease and the partner leaves or a child becomes seriously handicapped and the parent runs away.


Change disrupts the status quo and the status quo gives a sense of security.  Who wants to feel insecure?


Then there is the sunk-cost effect.  In The Art of Critical Decision Making, Michael Roberto says, “The sunk-cost effect refers to the tendency for people to escalate commitment to a course of action in which they have made substantial prior investments of time, money, or other resources.”  For those who have invested energy, time, and resources to something, even if it has not been effective or helpful, they are much less likely to switch to something else.  It usually takes a major crisis to give up what they've invested so much in.

Admittedly, this was a struggle for me.  I had invested time (many years) and quite a bit of money in Christian child-training books, conferences, and cassette tapes (what we used in ancient times to listen to subject matter experts).  Since our older child was becoming a wholesome and wonderful person, my wife and I became convinced we knew exactly how to be great parents.  Then our second child came along.  Each year became a greater challenge to the parenting paradigm we had embraced.  Child #2 forced us to rethink everything about parents, family, and child-rearing.  It was extremely difficult to surrender our old sources but we had to change for our child’s and family’s sake.



The tenth thing to consider why people won’t listen or understand you is because of a lack of trust.  Perhaps they have a hard time trusting anyone, so they cannot receive you and what you bring to the relationship.

It takes time to prove yourself as a trustworthy person.  Folks tend to be more receptive and understanding where there is a decent level of trust in the relationship.  At the same time, if you have done something to betray that trust or developed a reputation for being unreliable or untruthful, then it’s unreasonable to expect others to hear you out or understand what you’re going through.

It might even be a case where you remind them of someone else, so they prejudge you?  This happened to me while serving in the military.  A coworker came right out and said he did not like me or trust me.  We barely knew each other.  His comment floored me.  I asked why.  He said I reminded him of someone who had become his enemy.  Well, can’t help that.  We never did develop a decent relationship.



Why won’t they understand?  Why don’t they get it?  Why can’t they just listen to me?  I've given you ten possible reasons.  Of course, there are more.  When you are seeking helpful advice, affirmation, empathy, or help but receive anything except that, it might be for the reasons above.  It helps to know that it's not always your fault.  Often, it's some other cause.

What can you do to address these obstacles to listening and understanding?  Probably not much.  We will address that question another time.  In the interim, resolve to not beat yourself up or exert time and energy in making other people understand or empathize with you.  In all likelihood, that person or those people can't or don't want to listen, understand, or empathize.  Let them go and seek out caring, gracious, and empathetic folks who will.


Let me know what you think.  And if you have time, tell me your story.

Dr. Don


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