White Men Can’t Jump isn’t entirely relevant, but it’s an awesome scene nonetheless!

I heard a fascinating podcast recently with relationship god John Gottman in which he underscored that the biggest key to a happy relationship is really listening to our partner.

It’s hardly a breakthrough idea. Most of us covered this in kindergarten.

But why is listening so incredibly hard for so many of us?

I’ve historically sucked at listening. Throughout elementary school, the skill of listening was the only one I didn’t ace–I still remember that S for Satisfactory disrupting my line of Os for Outstanding. Growing up, I hated people telling me what to do and usually didn’t pay much attention to what I viewed as stupid rules, instruction, directions or feedback.

Despite a ton of work on listening, even today it’s not natural for me. I really have to focus. I like to think this has gotten a ton better, but there’s always work to do here.

So why didn’t I listen? And by extension, why don’t so many other people listen either? I have a few thoughts:

    • Innate stubbornness. Excellent for pushing through hard times; not good when you need to work as a team (which is almost all of the time). Some people are just more stubborn than others.
    • I’m doing fine, thanks. As far as I can tell, my way is working incredibly well and I’m happy/kicking ass. There’s no problem to solve. Your contribution is a pompous waste of time and you’re just lecturing my because you like to lecture people. You’re the one not listening to ME! And now I don’t trust you.
    • I already know what you’re telling me. Or so I think.
    • We have a different viewpoint on this and I’m not moving. This dynamic is at the heart of modern American politics.
    • Your information isn’t valuable. You’re boring or irrelevant–and not respecting my time.
    • The blessing of self-confidence. I mean that without irony–most days I’m lucky to have self-confidence. I don’t have to pump myself up in front of a mirror or melt down in big meetings. But with that blessing comes a dark side: I historically haven’t believed I need the help, so why waste energy on listening to so-called experts?
    • Listening hurts my feelings. It hurts to be attacked or plow into problems, so why should I put myself through that?
    • I’m superbusy. Prioritizing. (Or…creating distractions?)
    • My body won’t let me. This is something I firmly believe in for many of us out there, especially guys. If I don’t exercise for 36 hours, my body starts revolting against me, filling me with frantic energy that makes it far harder to listen and remain calm.

What else prevents you from listening?

I welcome your thoughts — and will address solutions in the days to come.