Most of us have heard how in dating and in relationships it's important to be a good listener. One of the times it is most important is when our partner is upset with us. That's when many people don't listen. Who wants to listen to their ranting and raving husband or their hysterical wife or their furious boyfriend. When I'm angry at my girlfriend she'll say, "I want to watch TV now" or anything to avoid listening to my tirades. Another approach she's use is to minimize the things that I'm angry about. Both these responses pour fuel on the fire. To illustrate we'll consider a hypothetical situation. Lets say Jim brings along his wife Allison to a formal party of his job. During the party Allison starts chatting with his boss and lets slip that Jim was fired from his former job. After the party they go home and Jim starts to yell at Allison. Her asking, "Can I watch Saturday Night Live now?" in order to avoid him is not going to help things. It will just make him angry because it will show him that she doesn't care and just wants to forget about it and doesn't want to listen. If she says, "Oh come on, it's not so serious, your reputation with the boss wasn't that good to begin with" the message she is sending to Jim is "I didn't really do any real harm, you're just blowing your top over nothing". Such minimization of guilt and invalidation of Jim's anger is likely to infuriate him even more. What Jim mostly likely wants from Allison is for her to LISTEN, to acknowledge her guilt, to promise him that she will make every effort not to repeat her mistake and to reassure him that she loves him. Although it's always important to listen to one's partner the most important time to listen is when one's partner is upset.
It's of course also important to listen in less stressful situations. Consider the following conversation.
Joe: And I really think that the democratic economic plan is what is needed for the country at this point in time.
Mary: Those forsythia, aren't they nice Joe.
Joe: Mary, I was talking about the democratic economic plan.
Mary: I know Joe but they're so beautiful.
Clearly Mary is not interested in the democratic economic plan. This change of subject however, will not lead to good relations with Joe. Sometimes it can make a big difference in a friendship to discuss the subject a little before changing it even if one isn't interested.
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