In the last installment of Dating without Drama – 5 Secrets of Successful Dating, you learned that you are not dating yourself – that it is important to get curious about the other person even though they may be very different than you.
In this installment of Dating without Drama, we will discuss the fourth Secret of Successful Dating- learning how to listen.
Have you ever been on a date and felt like a million bucks? Why do you think that was the case? Most likely it was that your date asked you questions about yourself. Everyone likes to talk about themselves (even you!) Try this the next time you meet someone. The more you get curious and listen, the greater the likelihood that person will walk away thinking you are an incredible conversationalist, even when you didn’t even say much!
Learning how to Listen
Learning how to listen will make your date feel great and it will also enable you to switch off the judgment switch in your brain which we said ( in secret #3) gets in the way of dates. While the last installment of Dating without Drama was that you are not dating yourself and we learned some active ways to implement that by asking questions and getting curious instead of halting conversation, this installment of Dating without Drama will cover what happens when you aren’t talking- but listening. How well do you listen and how do you respond?
That is where learning how to listen comes in. When a person learns how to listen he/she can break that symbiosis and enter the world of the other. This is crucial in any relationship and especially in marriage. Case in point, I worked with four or five new couples in the last week or so and they all said the same thing, they don’t know how to communicate/listen. They don’t understand why the other doesn’t get it.
So what is listening?
Let’s start by learning what is not:
A favorite exaggerated example is the girl who went on a date and began to share her feelings about local drivers. The guy got all defensive and came up with multiple explanations for why her opinion was not the case. She was not trying to defend a thesis, she was merely stating an opinion, but he was unable to even hear what she said because it offended him so deeply. While this story is a no-brainer, there are many well-meaning people who are subtly not listening. Here are some examples:
1) Oh, I see. I hear you
2) Dismissing- Whatever
3) Invalidating- You shouldn’t worry about it
4) Encouragement- You’ll do a great job
5) Commiserating- I know what it’s like
While well intentioned- giving unsolicited advice, discounting feelings, and commiserating will often leave the person feeling unsatisfied and unheard. The reason those statements do not work is that they are focused more on the listener, perhaps from a place of anxiety, than on the one talking. True listening is other-centered. If you know this concept well, you’ll be that much farther along in your journey dating without drama and dating in order to find the right mate and get married.
When fully in the other person’s world, you, the listener, do not interject you own opinions. You must be completely focused on the other, so much so that you cannot even lend words of encouragement.
Your sole task is to make sure you really understood what the other said.
This is especially effective when dealing with touchy subjects that may make you reactive. Instead of getting into your “stuff”, your reactivity stemming from the others’ experience, you are forced to leave your world behind temporarily and journey into the world of the person speaking.
Perhaps you think the other is completely wrong, makes absolutely no sense, and does not have the facts straight. It doesn’t matter. It is not about right or wrong. As the saying goes, “you can be right or you can be in relationship.”
Accept that you are dating an “other” and that “other” has their own experiences, a unique way of viewing the situation, and a right to their own opinion. This will help them feel heard and endear them to you much more than if you get defensive or even gently off your own two cents.
Furthermore, if your date shares strong feelings about something, it is not really about the particular issue or grievance being addressed, but about something deeper. If a girl starts attacking her date for his driving skills, when he has never gotten into an accident in his life and has a stellar driving record, if he develops curiosity for her story, he may discover what is really bothering her. Not only will he feel relieved that it really wasn’t all about him and how horrible he is, he may feel compassion for her story-for example, seeing her as a little girl who was the victim of a scary car crash.
The Magical 90/10 rule, an amazing technique to use to further along your learning how to get married journey!
This is the magic of the 90/10 rule. The 90/10 rule dictates that 90% of anything that intensely bothers us is due to the triggering of a past experience or feeling and 10% of our reaction is due to the particular stimulus at hand.
The strong emotions that this girl felt are merely old feelings reawakened by this incident. While this does not absolve her from responsibility to speak respectfully, if you were the guy, it would have been helpful to have this rule in mind to prevent you from being reactive when confronted with her barrage of emotions or criticism.
As many people are on their best behavior for a date and contentions moments may not arise in the beginning, once the relationship begins to get more serious and moves toward commitment, learning how to listen to difficult feelings can make the difference between a break up and an engagement. This is a tool that can take you to the next level.
The Imago Dialogue- The Best of Relationship Listening Skills
I would like to share with you a very effective tool that will allow you to listen to your date in a more meaningful way. I will briefly share with you the more structured version I teach in private sessions and in seminars and then explain how you can make it a little more natural for a date. This tool is called the intentional dialogue.
In a dialogue there is a sender- the one talking, and a receiver- the one listening. The dialogue process allows the sender to feel truly heard. This is accomplished by having the receiver “mirror” (repeat back) what the sender says. The receiver simply repeats or paraphrases what their spouse says and then asks if they got it, and if there is more they want to share. This continues until the sender says everything they want to express.
Here is a real example of a situation that went right with dialogue and could have easily turned into a fight without it:
Wife: I am really upset that you haven’t gone to the cleaners to get shirts cleaned. I feel like I have to do everything for you . . like you are one of the kids, another person to take care of. If I don’t take care of it, nobody will.
The husband has two choices. He actually disagrees with his wife. He was fully intending to go to the cleaners. In fact, he was scheduled to go today. He also does a lot to help around the house and he had never asked his wife to go the cleaners! His natural reaction would be to politely dissent and tell his wife “the truth” and clear his name. If he made that choice, an argument most likely would have ensued and it would have resulted in rupture. Fortunately, this husband had learned the Intentional Dialogue and he took the risk of not being right to enter the world of his wife. Here was his real response:
Husband: So what I heard you say is that you are upset that I did not go to the cleaners and get my shirts cleaned and that you feel like you have do anything for me, as if I am one of the kids. Did I get you? (meaning, did I understand what you said?)
Husband: Is there more? (meaning is there more you want to share with me because I am interested in hearing your story)
The dialogue continued until the wife realized that this reminded her of how she felt pressured to take care of her siblings, because her parents were not always available. This situation with the dry cleaners triggered that anxiety she experienced as a little girl. When she was finished sharing the story, her husband had fully made the journey into his wife’s world. He realized that it had very little to do with him or right or wrong. He was able to have compassion for his wife, for the little girl who was forced to grow up too soon. His eyes even filled with tears. He concluded the dialogue by validating her feelings.
Husband: What you are saying makes sense because I didn’t go to the cleaners. (Even though he may have intended to go later that day, and never asked his wife, he admitted his 10%).
Finally he empathized by sharing with his wife how he imagined she might be feeling.
Husband: I imagine you may be feeling very overwhelmed and alone. Is that what you’re feeling?
As a result of the dialogue, a shift occurred. When the husband was able to journey into his wife’s world, not reacting or contending over the facts, she was able to feel heard, and instead of resulting in disconnect, their exchange brought them closer than they had been in months!
So how can you do this on a date? There are three main steps you
want to be aware of in the dialogue process: mirroring, validation, and empathy. Mirroring is repeating back what the other said without interpretation, making sure you “ got it” and asking for more. So your date doesn’t think you are from Mars, you can be a little looser. You don’t have to say: “So what I heard you say . . .” Instead try, “so you are feeling …. Is that right? Tell me more.” Make it natural. Once they are done sharing, you can validate by letting them know that “it makes sense” and empathize by imaging what they may be feeling.
Trust me, if you can listen like this on a date, your date will be impressed!
Wrap Up Lesson 4
The fourth secret to successful dating is learning how to listen.
- We explored what listening is not
- We learned the dialogue process and how that can help us understand the other