Let’s talk about four secrets to get people to listen to you: being physically close to a person, making eye contact, making physical contact and just plain slowing down your communication patterns.
Physically Close to Be Heard
Being physically close to another person is almost like some kind of magic! I’ve found this especially useful when I had a toddler. There's something about being physically close to somebody that gets their attention. In my practice often people complain that nobody in their home is listening to them, nobody is paying attention, nobody cares. Everyone in the house is just playing video games or on their phones or whatever and nobody's listening to them. When I hear this, first thing I ask is about being physically proximity. Are you talking to them from the kitchen and there in the living room. Are you washing dishes or getting dinner ready and saying “Hey I need your help setting the table” and then they're just not paying attention because you're in a different room and they're distracted and they're not going to take the time usually to be on high alert for when mom or dad or anybody saying “come help” me. When you are not in the same room you start at a disadvantage in an attempt to get someone to listen. So always try to at least be in the same room with the person you want to really hear what you’re saying. You also want to make sure that you don’t have your back to somebody. When you're talking to them or if you are in the room you want to make sure that you're in front of them so that they can tell that you're talking to them especially these days I think a lot of kids are using earbuds or headsets so it’s almost like you need to flag them down to get them to hear you.
When you want to make sure someone is listening use the power of proximity. Make sure you're in the same room; don't yell from the kitchen, the hallway or the bathroom. Take the time to be in the same room. Make sure you’re facing the person and sometimes you might even need to be need in their personal space or “bubble.” The closer you are to someone the more likely it is that they're going to hear you or they're going to listen to you. I know this sounds easy and basic because it is. The problem is that we've never been taught through our parents or any other kind of modelling to do this kind of a perspective, like listening and speaking. So if you find yourself talking to the proverbial “wall” please stop, just check in and make sure that there's someone there close to you and then you can get them to listen.
Want to be Heard? Eye Contact.
Now the second secret to get somebody to listen to you when being physically close isn't working or that’s not enough is making eye contact. So maybe you’re in the same room, speaking directly in front of the person and they're looking down at their device or they’re watching TV. They're doing something and they're not paying attention to you. When this happens and you want somebody to hear you it's really important for you to look in their eyes. You may even have to ask them to look back at you.This works really well with kids, especially little kids where you can get down to their level and make sure your eyes are on their level and look at them and say “honey do you hear me? “Can you hear what I'm saying” and 9 out of 10 times they're going to say “yes mommy or daddy”
Now we have to figure out how to use that with spouses and coworkers because you don't want to come off as condescending but you could use the same technique. So make sure that you are making eye contact. Now how many times have you been on the other side of this, where you're on the computer, you're making dinner, you're doing something and somebody comes to you and says “Can you do this” or “don't forget to do ‘X’ and oh by the way we have this event going on this weekend” and you say “uh huh, uh huh,” and then three seconds later that person comes back and says well “why aren't you doing ‘X’” you're like “my God I'm didn't even hear that reques.t” So whenever somebody says “uh huh” that does not mean they're paying attention. The only way you can make sure that they're paying attention is to be physically close to them, make eye contact and when they say “uh huh” make sure they're looking at you. You also want to make sure that when you're making eye contact or when you're standing in front of them to start your conversation from that point. Don't start the conversation in the kitchen and then start walking and talking and talking and talking and then you come close at the very end of the conversation, make eye contact and say “Did you hear me?” If you do that there is a high probability you're just going to have to repeat yourself all over again. So start the conversation close making eye contact; that's when you're going to get the best results. I know it sounds really easy. None of these things are hard. It’s just that nobody again has ever taught us the fundamentals of communication. Can remember being back in your home and seeing your parents talking to each other like this? Or them talking to you as a kid right in front of you, looking you in the eye and saying “I need you to do this for me.” I get that it's easy but it's something you still need to work on and train yourself to do. But if you're still trying to get close and you make eye contact and for whatever reason they're still not listening we have a third strategy that would be to make physical contact.
Listening and Physical Contact
Now when I say make physical contact I want to put the disclaimer out there right away I am not talking about hitting, punching, kicking, pushing, anything like that. That's not at all what I'm talking about although sometimes we get frustrated because someone's not listening to us and we really feel like we want to shake them but I'm asking you please refrain because that kind of physical contact is never productive. When I'm talking about physical contact I'm talking about trying to get somebody’s attention with a touch on the arm or the shoulder. With little kids it's kind of nice if you gently nestled their face in your hands and said “honey are you listening to me? Can you hear me? Do you see me?” You could try that with your spouse, not sure it would go over so well, and definitely not with coworkers. But you can put a hand on the shoulder and say or maybe your sitting in a meeting and you can even shake their hand and say “So do we got this?” or “Are we good?” There's something about making physical contact that builds connection. And when you're connected to a person you're more likely to be open, listening and understanding what's going on. When you're disconnected you’re really not paying attention to what's around you. You’re not focused and not really taking in the emotion of the other person. That’s why it’s really important to be gentle and kind and then get somebody's attention. If you are going to make physical contact and you’re angry upset or aggressive people are going to freak out their nervous system is going to tell them that this is something dangerous and not okay and then their brain is going to go back into this limbic system where there is fight, flight, freeze and old memory. When this happens it cuts off all of this free frontal cortex part of the brain. The frontal cortex is where we are reasonable, rational and where we can think. So imagine if you are upset and you're trying to get somebody to hear you then you must understand that you're not coming from this rational part of your brain and the other person is going to not be able to access their rational frontal cortex because they're going to be defensive, scared or just dissociated due to your aggressive posture. Sometimes people take flight into freeze and when you freeze nothing's coming in. So making physical contact and closeness and eye contact all come in under the umbrella of appropriate communication; doing things in an appropriate way. The old saying that you get more bees with honey than vinegar it's true. You can say the worst possible thing to somebody in an appropriate manner and still be heard, still be validated and still feel like this is this is good, it's happening and I can say this and this person is not going to get super upset. It takes a lot of practice but it's doable.
Slow Down for Better Listening
But what if you have already tried getting close by being in the same room if you have tried making eye contact and then you've tried to make some kind of physical contact and person you’re trying to communicate with is still not listening to you? We've got one more thing to try and that’s slowing down
What do we mean by slowing down? Sometimes it is about slowing down how our body is moving. If you're frantically trying to get stuff ready for school and all kinds of craziness is going on, that's going to affect how your communicate. It's going to come out kind of frantic. It's going to come out really sharp and fast, and when you're doing things sharp and fast people are not really taking the time to understand what you're saying and you might have 50/50 chance they're going to do what you're asking. It reminds me of a really good sales person. You ever talk to somebody that's fast talking and smooth. They know all the right things to say but they talk really fast. I actually think that's because they don't really want you to hear what they have to say they just want you to feel like “wow those were a lot of words” and that's the opposite of what we want with real communication. We want to have less words and we want to have people really 100 percent understand what we're trying to tell them. So we don’t want to be the fast talking salesman.
What we want to focus on is brevity; short sentences and few sentences. Try to get to the meat of what you're trying to say and then say it. This means before you say something please take the time to slowly consider what am I actually trying to say? What do I want right now? What do I need? If need my kids to put their shoes on, that's what I want. Okay so this is what usually happens; rushing around trying to get lunches, trying to get backpacks, trying to get all these different things. And my gosh it's raining; I need to have an umbrella. Does everyone have a jacket? It’s just chaos right and then for whatever reason the kids are not putting their shoes on. They got everything ready but they're just kind of lagging, they're not putting their shoes on. I'm like “put your shoes on; let's go let's go we got to go. we're going to be late let's go, let's go, let's go,” And Even though I'm saying “hey put your shoes on” I'm also putting in additional words like “we're running late” and I’m saying it really frantically and so what if I went to both of my kids maybe even one at a time and I said “Can you please get a move on and do your jobs so that we can get out of the house because I'm noticing that you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing” then he's going to say like oh shoot I’m not doing what I'm supposed to be doing so it’s not really put your shoes on it's more you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing and you should know what that is.
So thinking about what it is that you need, what are you really trying to say, by slowing down and thinking about what specifically you want will be helpful the other person trying to understand you. Also how you speak, how many words are coming out of your mouth per minute when you want something or you want somebody to hear you it is always best to speak slowly. And we’re not talking robot slow because that would be creepy but in a measured manner to make yourself more easily understood. It may take some practice, even if you talk a little bit slower than you usually do that even makes a difference.
Going slow is part of being mindful, allowing yourself to be more effective in your life. It’s being more aware of how and why you are doing things. It almost gives you the opportunity to do things right the first time so that you don't have to do them over again. Try to be mindful try to really consider how you want to show up in front of people and the more considerate you are the better the chances that they're going to hear you. If you get close to someone physically close, if you make eye contact, if you make some light, non-aggressive physical contact and that and you focus on slowing down and being mindful it's very, very likely that the other person is going to hear you, they're going to listen and they're going to do what you’re asking them to do. Once again this is a skill that requires practice If you would like to practice more or get some additional information on how to use this with a spouse or a coworker or more with the kids please connect us. All of our therapists are really great at teaching this kind of communication. And we’re confident that if you implement these four secrets you’ll notice that the people in your life will start listening to you more than ever before.