I have a confession to make. I pride myself on being an observer of life, the consummate eavesdropper, in the most unobtrusive way. Not for what is being said, in as much as what is not being said. Here is what I found out.
Many people aside from being mostly full of shit, are really poor listeners for two reasons. One, they are by nature, self-absorbed and really just not that into you, and two, have the attention span of a goat. Me on the other hand, I am a curious by nature, kinda chick, and my inquiring mind wants to know.
I was in the HR field for over 10 years, once upon a time, and I interviewed entry-level to upper management. I listened, I asked appropriate questions, and I went in for the kill, figuratively speaking of course, when I needed to. Hey that was my job, I was being paid to weed out the weak, the inferior, and those blatantly full of shit, once someone made up every single company on their resume, including their degree, no lie, they may as well have pulled a George Costanza and told me Vandelay Industries, that’s a Seinfeld reference ya’ll, hard to verify pre-internet, but a few phone book inquiries, and calls to 411, was all the evidence I needed, for those of you under the age of 30 years old, 411 was how we got info about businesses and people pre-internet, so if you lied to me, I knew it, and I made you very uncomfortable. I was very good at my job not because I was super intelligent, or had years of schooling, but because I am an empath, and as such, I was able to accurately and acutely, hone in on feelings, their emotional vibrations if you will, and could read a person before they even uttered a word. It was in their body language, the way they carried themselves, as much as it is in what they said, or more importantly what they didn’t say.
Now don’t get me wrong, I totally listen intently to what a person says, but I also believe that what isn’t being said is where you find the essence of what is truly going on with someone. Many people don’t realize that body language is a bigger indicator of what is going on with someone than any words they can convey. Talk is cheap, truth is in someone’s actions, it is in the mannerisms, probably more so then words. For instance, I can be at a party and someone is talking warmly about their spouse, about the kind thing they did for them, how wonderful they are with the kids, blah, blah, blah, and really selling that shit, now as they are doing this, I am intently listening, but I am fixated on their body language, not because I am distracted or bored with what they are saying, quite the contrary, and it is not that I think they are trying hard to impress me or convince me about what they are saying, but honestly it’s because they need to convince themselves, because what they are saying and feeling at that moment are not in true alignment with what they are desperately trying to convey, and as I am watching what I begin to see, is the tightness of their jaw, or how they are fighting with their rings, their hair, and looking in the direction of their spouse who is sitting off in the distance deep in a convo of his own, and I can surmise that this person is angry right now at their spouse, and they are in an agitated state, and while I believe they really were pleased by what the spouse did at the time, what they are telling me is in disproportion to what they are feeling. It is not that they are trying to deceive me or hype their spouse to me, it is in that moment they are trying really hard to resolve the inner turmoil and work through the issues they are having all the while, unknowingly conveying with their body language, and mannerisms, the anger and disappointment they feel at their spouse right now. I have many times delved deeper into questions when I sense some unease with someone only to have them divulge a deep secret or feeling they were harboring that they hadn’t prepared to share or were even aware of, but did so because they felt safe to share and I put them at ease by just listening, and observing, and they left feeling much better, or in some rare cases, angrier, because they acknowledged the anger they had been repressing for some time. Which makes me sad to see the anger rise up, but happy to know that they are now aware of it and will work through it in their time!
You don’t have to be an empath or have special skills to hear what’s not being said. You do however, have to have some ability to read people, understand the psychology of human behavior in the most basic of ways, and be somewhat accurate at what you perceive. The way you do this is to practice, pick up on obvious but subtle cues and nuances, and let things proceed organically. Now I will be honest, I can usually sense what’s going on with someone even if crowds, which gets me overwhelmed because I pick up on everyone’s emotions in crowds of people, now before you go dismissing this as New Age voodoo, this is a legit trait, and if you need more proof or want to find out more on the subject, I urge you to check out this book on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Empaths-Survival-Guide-Strategies-Sensitive/dp/1622036573/ref by Dr. Judith Orloff. I pick up on vibrations and emotions, but I am not perfect, and I get it wrong sometimes, but my record is pretty damn good to be honest, and my fireman even accepts this innate gift I have now, because he has seen it play out many times in our 25 years together. I can’t tell you how many times he has said, “Wow babe, you were right about that person, or you called it, they are getting a divorce, or wow how did you know that?” I can’t tell you how many times I knew something about a person before they finally divulged it anyone, including a good friend whom I told she was pregnant even before she had taken a pregnancy test yet, or told me she and her husband had been trying to conceive. As soon as she walked in my house I literally felt it, I told her I feel like your pregnant, she laughed, and dismissed it, telling me I was crazy, later come to find out she picked up a pregnancy test on the way home and she was in fact pregnant. She was shocked, excited and was a little spooked, by my revelation. Sometimes it happens like that, and its not because anyone told me anything, but because I felt it, and their body language did.
I will say this, I have used this skill of mine to observe body language to hear what isn’t being said with my teens and my fireman, not to manipulate them, but to learn what is going on with them because I love and care to be closer to them, and I believe that this fosters a sense of closeness and intimacy in personal relationships, and that is key to understanding and building a better relationship. This isn’t about learning to manipulate anyone, quite the opposite, this is learning about the human condition and fostering more meaningful interactions. I will say this, if you are using this as a form of manipulation you are missing the mark, and that is a psychological-pathologic condition, that needs professional assessment.
What helps if you are so inclined to begin this practice, and yes it takes practice, and let me say that I never sought this out, it just began to happen, in part because I am curious by nature, and mostly because I am just fascinated by human behavior, and I think this rubbed off on my daughter, who is currently studying to be a Child Psychiatrist at Rutgers University. Yes, I am a proud mama indeed! So what helps is that you truly have to enjoy engaging people, otherwise you will not give a fuck about getting closer to anyone outside your circle, it also helps tremendously, if you have the ability to bite your tongue when you sense someone you are having a conversation with is full of shit, that was a big hurdle for me early on, I am not going to lie, for an Italian girl who’s opinionated, it was brutal, but as I got older, I tossed my ego to the side, let life happen, and got out of my fucking head, and you know what? Good things happened as a result, so when you encounter these things, and are having a conversation with someone whom you obviously have a higher IQ than, or you have more knowledge on a subject they are discussing, you need to just push it aside and chuckle, to yourself you fool, knowing that they have little, if any, accurate knowledge on what they are trying to convince you of, and you can in that instance, politely say, “Oh, I didn’t know that”or my personal favorite, “You don’t say.” I will only call someone out who is clearly trying to be all high and mighty and clearly has misconstrued that this isn’t my first rodeo, and besides for the obvious fact that I have tits, and am merely a girl, I also have a pretty, sexy brain. Men do this more than women, and it infuriates me. They feel like they need to be on, and a master of all subjects, and if a woman is intelligent, they feel inferior and must overcompensate, which comes off so condescending. I find this was more of an issue for me years ago then now, and it began when someone would ask what I did for a living, and find out I was a stay-at-home Mom, as if I were some how defective and had no marketable skills, or a brain for that matter, and what I have come to understand now is, so many times these men were so damaged in their own lives, they wanted to swoop in, be relevant and superior to someone who they deem inferior, so in that case if they disrespected me intentionally, I showed them how to get on the right side of R-E-S-P-E-C-T ….right quick! My husband honestly would cringe at this quality in me, still does, and probably always will, but my mother didn’t raise me to be anyone’s fool. Preach!
We all live busy lives and with the invention of technology we have become so desensitized to the subtle nuances of conversation, that we have veered from the art of conversation, with what I feel will be socially dire consequences in years to come. There is just no substitute for being face to face and having full access to a grown up conversation. Text is fine for quickies, but for the good stuff you need the face to face, and I don’t mean FaceTime here either!
So how do you begin to hear what isn’t being said? I have compiled a list of some of my favorite go to’s. This applies to relationships with your significant other, family, friends and anyone you interact with.
Before you can ever begin to read the subtleties and nuances of what isn’t being said you need to understand how to effectively listen. To do that you must focus on what the person is saying, listen without judgement or condemnation, don’t focus on what your story is, listen with an open mind and open heart. It is their time to talk and your time to listen. Think of it in these terms, listen as a friend, as if what they are about to reveal to you is dire for your very existence, it is extreme but it will help your brain make the correlation that it is your time to listen and it should be important for you to do so.
Begin to focus on a person’s mannerisms in conversation, are they just l shy, maybe.. since they don’t make eye contact, or do so only briefly, or is it only when they begin to talk about a highly charged subject that they engage? Are they relaxed and asking you for your opinions or are they tense, fidgeting about? Me personally, when I sense someone is having a hard time with this, I become gentle and ask some questions which usually redirects and leads to more open communication and compassion. Which I want to add that being compassionate, is key. Even if someone is talking politics and I don’t agree with them, I show respect and let someone express their views. I never disrespect, degrade, or shame, anyone for their beliefs. I will however, express my opinions if need be and defend myself, if I feel someone is disrespecting me, but those instances are rare. Also, it is perfectly OK to be out of your comfort zone in a conversation, even blush if it is sexually charged, I do it all the time and I love smut talk, not only does it make you human, it makes you a good listener. Personally, the sexier the talk the better I listen!
Listen selflessly without any expectations that someone will do the same. So many people want to volley back and forth in conversation, and yes that is the premise of a conversation, but it is mostly just to get to the part where it is all about them.. I truly believe that the reason people enjoy talking to me is that I let them talk incessantly about anything and will ask questions about what they are saying, but don’t interject with my own tales of, “that happened to me too, and it was awful, you should have seen it, I still can’t believe this or that” listen... you can express empathy and even share a similar experience, but you don’t need to go all in and dominate the conversation, having it become all about you. Now I want to be clear that I am not suggesting you stand there in a catatonic state, not uttering a word, and just nodding like a psychopath, that’s not it at all, what I am saying is to be silent and let the conversation unfold, and don’t force it, let it happen organically. Further, don’t steal anyone’s thunder, if you want to hear what isn’t being said. You will have your chance if you are so inclined, but for now it is time to put your listening ears on…just listen and observe!
Educate yourself in the process of conversation. Yes, it is possible, I personally tend to gravitate towards conversations with men. It isn’t that I find women dis-interesting, it is that women tend to put on airs, and are more reserved because of societal standards and as a result will not reveal or engage in conversations that are controversial, sexual, or allow them to show their true intelligence, especially in the presence of men, so as not to make them (men) feel insecure, now don’t get me wrong, I love makeup, shoes, and gossip, as much as the next girl, but I want to hear real talk sometimes, I want to expand my mind, and learn a thing or two, and honestly, just plain hear something juicy, something tantalizing, something that is unapologetic and uncensored. Men are animated and love to be the center of attention, so you will get the dirtiest jokes, the more pointed opinions, stats with facts, and a freeing, almost abandoned sense of who they are, and as they get their drunk on, stories about life, that most women dare not speak of. Once at a party, I stumbled upon someone who began to describe a wife swapping escapade they had just had the week before, in such amazing detail, I could barely contain my amazement, curiosity, and yes, shock, I was so enthralled. Not because I was considering it on any level, but I couldn’t imagine that if his wife knew he had just shared that with us, what she would have done! I kind of felt bad knowing that it was probably a secret that she had felt confident that he would keep and how it would have felt like a betrayal to her, which brings me to my next point, if someone is telling you something in confidence, now granted he was drunk and among many other people who heard the story, be respectful of whom you share details. This couple is still together so I have to believe that they found what works for them. I was not yet married at the time and still in my early 20’s, and to hear that married people were actually freaks had me wondering if marriage wouldn’t be half bad! I don’t worry about that any more!
When you are in a conversation with someone and you are listening to what they are saying, and trying very hard to hear what they aren’t saying, the way you get really good at it, is by giving them your full attention, and not be so distracted by the need to respond because of a perceived uncomfortable silence. Learn to listen intently without focusing on how or what to respond with next. When you begin to observe, you are fully invested in this person, you are giving them permission to be themselves and you put them at ease with you, by making them feel special. I make it a point to hang on a person’s every word in true interest, compassion, and to make a deeper connection. I do feel bonded to that person whom I am giving my full attention to at the moment, we are sharing our time together and we are one at that moment, treat people how you wish to be treated, and I promise you will see a softness in them unlike any other, as they bask in your warmth, don’t be surprised what they reveal to you, as you are making them feel safe and creating an environment of trust and oneness. I have garnered such intense conversations as a result, and many times it is the men who you would not think would ever show softness, that begin to reveal such emotional fragility, it often takes me by surprise in that moment, as I am sure it surprises them even more, by what they reveal. We are human, we want a connection, we want to be heard, to be understood, its human nature. Begin to be a student as well as a teacher, of this thing called life. It may surprise you at how much you begin to hear without words being said. They speak volumes, I promise!
So the take away here is this. We all have preconceived notions of what a conversation should or shouldn’t entail. Now let me be clear, if you are in the work place, you will want to have a very professional and very different approach, while in the conference room, when talking with co-workers, and when dealing with subordinates, or suffer the consequences of some uncomfortable meetings with HR over what is, and what isn’t, acceptable water cooler banter. Trust me on this, keep your sexual escapades, dirty jokes, and request for boob pics, out of the work place, or your sorry ass, is going to run the risk of having it become grounds for your dismissal, and with the climate of sexual harassment finally in a woman’s favor, this is my plea to you, to straighten up and fly right!
However, when you are at a party or out for happy hour and off the clock, you can begin to engage in deeper more meaningful conversations. This is where you want to put into play some of the tips for being a really good listener. It takes practice, it takes patience, and it is a skill that will pay dividends if your wish is to be a better member of the human race, deepen your level of awareness, and get closer to those you love as well as anyone you’d like to get to know.
Now, I am not saying every conversation will be the bond building quest for your soul, in fact many will not, and to be honest, some are just way to mind numbing to invest more than five minutes to, but if you are engaged in a conversation with someone whom you feel a connection to, and not necessarily in a sexual or romantic way, it would behoove you to listen. There have been many times where a chance encounter has been a blessing, because I swear to you, that person just expressed something that I was going through and I knew in that moment that it was a message I was meant to hear, and if I had been focused on my needs and expectations I would never have been able to appreciate the moment we were having.
I hope you feel inspired to begin to listen and hear not only what is being said, but what lies just beneath. Will it miraculously change a person, if you become a better listener? Probably not. Will you fix everyone who seems broken and solve the world’s problems? Fuck no, but what this practice will do, is make you a more effective listener, as well as deepen your connections with others, and in doing so, will make you a happier, healthier, and allow you to have a deeper understanding of the human condition, aand may even garner you some juicy conversations about some sinfully, sexy, exploits!