Friday, February 07, 2014

Why Can't People Listen?

On Love and Power (the previous post) there's a great comment and I think it deserves a decent answer.

I know that you've written this post in terms of committed, intimate relationships but to me, much of this also applies in work relationships, too, and probably in other settings as well. Though I do understand that in a work setting there is someone who is ultimately accountable and may have a final say (the boss), there are ways that I think even in a work setting a person should be sharing power. I think an individual who is working should have some capacity for self-determination and should, therefore, be able to share power. In theory. 
You wrote the following, "Interestingly, Gottman found that when women expressed anger they could influence their partners, and this predicted happiness in the future. Perhaps it is the only way they are heard in these cases." and what strikes me about this is that I know when I make clear statements about what I need, without anger or drama, mostly what I say tends to get ignored. I don't really understand this, because to me it seems that most people would prefer not to have a lot of drama and would prefer to hear clearly what a person's wants/needs are. 
Yet an awful lot of people don't seem to want to take it seriously or ignore or otherwise refuse to hear what's said. A long time ago, I remember warning, repeatedly, a boyfriend I was in a bad relationship with, that if certain behaviors didn't change (his drug use and his tendency to use me as his verbal punching bag) then I would leave. And when I did as I said, it seemed to be a complete surprise to him. I've had that experience in other situations, too. I'm not sure why people will only hear when a person gets angry, visibly, and maybe even loudly, angry. That makes no sense to me. If I say that I have a need or that something hurts or that I can't tolerate a situation, and I do it without a lot of drama, I still mean it. I haven't made those remarks idly. I really don't understand people.

Why don't people listen to one another? So many reasons, but here's a snapshot.

The ego, primarily, that self that talks to us constantly, but isn't really very obvious about what it wants or why it wants it. That self, which houses what we perceive our identity to be, is threatened by the suggestions of others, often perceived as criticism.

That ego (for all of us) is born an infant and is supposed to mature over time such that we consider the egos of others, important, too. But occasionally the ego is really slow to mature like that, and will only face itself, reconsider its default construction of life and the way it should be, when forced to mature. Parents do this in enumerable ways. We call it the civilizing of the child.

But it can happen as an adult, personal growth, like when someone leaves, sick of a partner's (or a parent's) immaturity. Even then it is a crap shoot, whether or not trauma will inspire growth, consideration of the other's point of view, seeing it as valid and not a threat to one's sense of self-worth. It is easier for the ego to criticize and reject the person who left. This is why there is so much emphasis upon validation in therapy, inundating that other ego with
 You're okay, I totally respect your point of view; you are amazing, I see where you're coming from, I like this about what you said in particular, brilliant, you are such a good  boss, father (whatever), could you take just two minutes, sit down with me, and help me with this problem of mine . . . 
Sometimes that works. Not always.

How does an ego become so sad and reactive? It would be easy to pinpoint it on failure in the past, rejection, learning disabilities, abuse, and all of that doesn't help. But to look at it psychodynamically for a minute (blame the parents), having had parents who didn't listen, who neglected and didn't validate, couldn't have helped a seedling ego grow, and served as a poor listening role model.

If those guardians were controlling or had a children should be seen and not heard world view, that increases the likelihood a person will need to do things  my way. They developed an attitude, my way or the highway, probably because they never had their way when it mattered, when they needed to try out their own ideas, make decisions that would have fostered maturity, self-esteem, self-worth. When we make decisions, for better or worse, at least we're living, having a say.

Why do people respond to anger? It is naturally intimidating, scares us, teleological to attend to it. And also, if parents were angry, if they shouted to intimidate, a good shout, amplification of the volume, turns on a time machine. The shouter becomes the angry parent and gets to have a complacent child, if only for a little while.

Thanks Mound Builder,



Anonymous said...

Great question, as I have often wondered the same thing. I too ended up leaving a boyfriend who had a horrible attitude about relationships, even though he acted like he wanted to be in one. He did a great many things right, but then that attitude would strike out of nowhere, leaving me very baffled. I asked him what was going answer. He couldn't understand why I was upset. One day, I calmly told him that the things he was saying made me feel like he didn't care about me. His response: why are you giving me grief? If I was a constant nag, I might understand why he felt like he could dismiss that statement. However, I'm not a nag. I'm not an angry person. I always try to be reasonable.

Other things happened, and I ended it. How a very intelligent man could not see what he was doing, even when I pointed it out to him, and then expect me to stay, is mind boggling. Can someone be that obtuse?

I never yelled at him, or blamed him for anything. Maybe I should have, but it probably wouldn't have changed anything. He told me his dad is a very negative person, and his mother is very soft spoken. It makes me wonder if he learned this pattern of behavior from his parents, or did no one ever listen to him? It's a sad situation.

therapydoc said...

Oh for sure some parents pass on a very strong tradition of weird communication, and when I pluralize it is because it takes two to communicate. Impossible to know exact reasons why without a full diagnostic.

Mound Builder said...

Thank you, therapydoc, for making a post in reply to my comment. I've read it several times since you posted it, have been thinking about what you've said. One thought, my first one, was 'wow, you hit the nail on the head with this in terms of a work relationship I have really struggled with for quite a few years. How did you know the person/situation I've found difficult when I didn't even give you any information?!"

And then I thought about the bad relationship that I ended about 35 years ago and how even telling that person I was done with the relationship hasn't kept him from popping up in my life in weird ways and places, seemingly intentionally, ever since. He popped up again about 6 months ago at my place of worship and did so in a way that had me cornered, during the service. I left at the first moment that I could, without saying anything to him. It's mildly stalking behavior.

About work and the relationships one has with co-workers... when in a work setting, all of those same issues are at play, the things one grows up with, emotional reactions, ego, etc. Yet most of us accept employment with a company and agree to work in relation to a person with very little time to get to know them. It's a bit like getting married (committing to working at a place) after only one date (the interview). After several years of working for a person that has most of the issues you've described, after clearly stating what I needed because I didn't want to have to function like a workaholic, didn't want to have to exclude my family and my religious community in order to sacrifice all of my time for work, after counseling to try and figure out how to communicate with the person, I concluded that the only way I was going to be heard was to leave the job. It seemed to come as a shock to the person who was my supervisor, though I had been saying for several years that I could not maintain that workload.

I really do appreciate you taking the time to give me such a thoughtful answer that is so "spot on" in response to my comment. It's sad to realize how many relationships get sabotaged because people won't/can't hear what they are being told, plainly, or that they hear and think it is unreasonable and escalate their bad behavior instead of working toward trying to resolve the problem. If I heard someone telling me that they could not keep working weekends, in addition to working weekdays, for years on end, and when they offered a real and solid and good solution, I think I would take it. But then, I'm not a workaholic, so I wouldn't ever have put someone in that position to start with.