Listen to What People Feel, Not to What They Say

BY Paula M. Jones        July 7, 2017

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.
- Dale Carnegie

I was babysitting my friend’s daughter one afternoon.  I was busily rearranging my clothes closet when she crept up behind me and sighed.  “Why do married people fight?” she asked forlornly.  I turned around.  She looked worried. 

I quickly replied, “Well, everybody fights.  Not just married people  Any two people in a relationship are going to fight about something.  It’s actually healthy to fight.” 

Cue the buzzer.  The little girl’s face straightened up and she changed the subject.  Wait a minute… she had quickly brushed aside what had been an attempt to engage me for some advice.  Woops.  Did I miss something?

I sure did. 

I would describe myself as a Type-A personality who is often caught in my own head.  This means that I think about things – a lot – and I don’t often drop down into my heart and my emotions in order to feel about things instead.  It has taken me a long time to figure out that people have different ways of moving through the world.  Some of us move through it by thinking.  Others move through it by feeling. 

I remember as a teenager sitting with a therapist who asked me how I felt about a difficult situation I was facing.  “Well,” I replied, “I think that what’s happening is unfair.”  She stopped me.  “No, no.  I didn’t ask what you think about it, I asked how you feel about it.”  I was stumped. 

“Seriously,” I would insist, “I think people are being mean.  It isn’t right.”  Again, she would stop me.  “You’re being logical again – stop that.  Those are your thoughts about the situation, not your feelings.”  She actually handed me a piece of paper with a big list of feelings printed on it.  I would then think about the situation that was upsetting me, review the list and report, “I feel SAD.  I feel HURT.  I feel POWERLESS.”  Wow.  Feelings.  Who knew?

When my friend’s daughter had approached me, my intellect had taken in her words and my intellect had responded.  I had failed to listen to her emotions – completely.

I did not take in the worried tone in her voice, her sigh, the worried look on her face and her slightly slumped posture.  Had I stepped back and listened to her whole being with my whole being – my head and my heart - I would have sensed her emotions, rather than just heard her words.  I would have interpreted her communication as something more like this, “Two people I love are fighting and it makes me worried and sad and confused.  I need reassurance and comfort.”

If I had sensed that message instead, I would have stopped what I was doing, sat down with her, put my arm around her shoulders and told her that it can feel scary when married people fight.  She probably would have felt heard and comforted enough to reveal more about the specifics of her concern and sense of confusion.  Instead, my logical response involving relationship facts and patterns shut down her attempt to ask for help.  That is definitely not what I intended to do.

It is understandable when children are unable to really voice their concerns in a way that is clear.  They are still developing their ability to identify feelings, emotions, gain clarity and then to translate it into clear instructions or a request for help from an adult.  In reality, however, most adults still experience the same struggle. 

If you get stuck in your head and are prone to intellectualizing your experiences, practice dropping down into your emotions and identifying your feelings.  Putting together a big list of feelings to identify can be extremely helpful.  Once you practice identifying your own feelings, you can be more in tune with the feelings that other people are experiencing in all the various ways they express them, whether they do so logically or not. 

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Paula M. Jones

Paula M. Jones is the creator of the multimedia web site, Small Epiphanies: Subtle Insights for Profound Change.  By sharing her own journey of rising above formidable obstacles – one small epiphany at a time – she hopes to inspire and encourage others to do the same. Check out her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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