How to Respond When Someone Isn’t Listening


Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk RX with Doctor Neha. Today I have a special guest. I met Henrietta at WorldWomen17 in New Zealand, and we are on a lunch break. She agreed to ask her question so all of you can learn. How old are you Henrietta?

Henrietta: I’m 16.

Doctor Neha: 16—now we’re going to get the perspective from a young woman and what question she might have to ask around communication or life, and power, anything.

Henrietta: I had a question surrounding miscommunication and lack of acknowledgement. When I’m in a situation where I really want to be heard and perhaps the other person isn’t hearing me at level five listening, how can I make changes within myself to cope with that lack of acknowledgement, and how can I in that stressful situation make myself a better listener?

Doctor Neha: All right, so basically what you’re saying is you want to know what to do when you have strong reaction to not being heard. What situations might this come in?

Henrietta: Well it happens sometimes with my boyfriend. If we’re having an argument, sometimes if he’s really absorbed on his side of the coin, and I’m trying to acknowledge that and offer something else, he can’t always take it in when he’s absorbed in his own feeling and emotion.

Doctor Neha: Yeah.

Henrietta: I really struggle with it because it means whatever I say just doesn’t get through, or it feels that way.

Doctor Neha: You actually have just told me that you feel identically to what he does. Do you see what I mean? The first part of your question was, “What do I do when I don’t feel heard?” The second part was, “Then I try to help him solve his problem, and he doesn’t take it in,” right? So here’s the secret: what you want—to be heard—you have to give it away first. Do you know what I mean?

Henrietta: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: How does your body communicate with you and tell you that you don’t feel heard? How do you know?

Henrietta: I sort of feel a bit panicked and closed in. I might get a bit teary or sort of butterfly, anxiousness.

Doctor Neha: You feel a little trapped.

Henrietta: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Then there’s the anxious feeling, right? How does feeling anxious and trapped show up in your body? You were kind of pointing right here [to chest], but where does it show up physically in your body?

Henrietta: I think mostly in my torso, my chest, my stomach.

Doctor Neha: Your chest and your stomach.

Henrietta: But it can also manifest in my head as well, although that’s not as outwardly visible, but I can get a headache or that sort of thing.

Doctor Neha: First of all, I am so impressed that she can very clearly delineate physically what’s happening when you’re emotionally charged, right? Okay, so when that starts happening, the first thing you want to do is take a deep breath in and lean into that instead of try to resist it or block it.

Henrietta: Okay.

Doctor Neha: Videos and music have pause buttons, right? So do we. We have human pause buttons. Sometimes when we’re reacting to someone else, we forget about the pause button. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Henrietta: I definitely do that.

Doctor Neha: The first step is to repeat back what he is saying as you take a deep breath. It allows you to pause, and it allows you to check for meaning and to show that you heard what he just said. For example, he says something like, “Well I’m not going to come to the party tonight with you. It’s a girl thing, I’m not coming.” In that moment if you start feeling like you’re not heard because you just asked him to come, you’re going to take a deep breath and you’re going to say, “So it sounds like you think it’s just a girl thing. Is that true?” If that is true, he may say, “Yes” or whatever. In that moment what you did was you gave yourself a pause, you got to breathe deeply and you got to check for meaning.

Henrietta: Sort of like dissecting his side…heart on the lab table.

Doctor Neha: Being curious about his side. Even easier, dissecting sounds pretty complicated, and it also sounds like we’re cutting him up, right? Really what you want to do is build an invisible bridge for you two to connect. The first part of that is managing yourself by taking a deep breath, checking for meaning, and then being curious.

Henrietta: Okay.

Doctor Neha: Then you’re going to lower levels of listening—by the way, the five levels of listening that she referred to is something I taught at the conference, and it’s in chapter 10 of TalkRx, “The Five Levels of Listening.” The Cliff Notes version is level one is when you have closed listening. You act like you’re listening but you’re not really, because you’re either distracted, you already know, or you don’t care about what someone is talking. Level two listening is head listening, when you’re more concerned about looking good, you are trying to plan your response so that you look good, or you’re hijacking someone in conversation, you’re taking over, you’re interrupting, or you’re one upping them. The third level of listening is when you listen to the words someone is saying. The fourth level of listening includes listening for the emotions underneath the words. The fifth level of listening is listening for what they value.
If your boyfriend said to you, “I’m not going because that’s the girls thing, and I don’t want to really go.” What emotion would you hear him speaking about?

Henrietta: Nervousness and uncomfortableness.

Doctor Neha: Yeah, so you might say, “I hear how it might make you anxious or uncomfortable to be with all of my girlfriends.” Then what does he value? “What I hear you value is … ” What kind of time does he want with you?

Henrietta: One on one.

Doctor Neha: So you would say, “I hear that it would be a more valuable experience for you if we had time together when I wasn’t with my friends. Is that true?” Instead of you starting to try to be heard and fighting to be heard, you pause, you unhook yourself from your own emotions, and you get really curious about how he’s feeling and what he values. Does that make sense?

Henrietta: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Then there will be time to say, “Can I share what’s important about you being there with me?” Now he’s going to be in a place where he can truly hear you. Do you understand the idea of giving away what you want? When you really want something, give it away first.

Henrietta: I think that will be really helpful.

Doctor Neha: Tell me what did you take away? What’s different than what you normally do?

Henrietta: I think it’s stepping back and trying to put effort and focus on truly trying to understand the other person instead of just thinking, I already understand this, and listening only at the second level. Instead of assuming you know how they feel, actually assess the root rather than the surface. I think that could be really useful in this context as well, and then assessing the deeper levels of what it means for that person. Then as a result of that, you can address it yourself and what it means for you too.

Doctor Neha: Wow. Game changed. He’s not going to know what happened. For you all at home, if you want to change how you interact with someone, or you kind of get in experiences like Henrietta just described, one of the big secrets is to pause, unhook yourself from your agenda, and listen deeply to somebody else. Then ask them, or connect to them, about what you were trying to say.
First of all I want to say, is she amazing? At 16 years old, if I knew and had the awareness she did, I just can’t even imagine where I’d be. You give me hope for the future. What I want to make sure, those of you at home know, is TalkRx offers actual tools to help you connect to some of the most challenging conversations in your life. If you think someone else needs to be watching this video, I promise that the right person is watching it right now. It only takes one person to change the outcome, and that person is you. Thank you, my darling.

Henrietta: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: Thanks for watching Talk Rx and until next time, please write in the blog, give us your comments. If you would like to have your question answered, drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Pause and take a deep breath.

  2. Repeat back what you heard.

  3. Listen for their emotions and values.

  4. Get curious (Was that what they meant?).

  5. Ask if they are open to you sharing your perspective on the topic.


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