Do You Hear What I Hear?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

My mother and I used to have conversations that only other women were able to understand. We left out words and whole sentences but knew exactly what the other was saying. My husband would scratch his head wondering if we were using some kind of code to communicate. It was difficult to explain to him that we were using woman speak from a language that we had perfected since I was a small child. In fact, my daughters and I have the same ability to talk to one another with a paucity of words. 

My husband and I have perfected a way of predicting the future utterances of each other. It is not unusual at all for us to complete sentences. It is as though each of us is living in the other’s head. After fifty years of marriage we really do understand the other’s thinking, but once in awhile I confound him with ideas that don’t make sense to him at all. 

It is often suggested that men and women have very different ways of communicating. In fact, there have been entire books written on the subject. In schools it is almost humorous to watch students in action. The girls tend to be attentive and focused while the boys seem to have trouble sitting still long enough to grasp concepts. All of these things affect the ways in which we speak to and respond to one another. 

I am totally a visual learner. I have to see things, read printed matter, take notes in order to comprehend a concept. My husband is an auditory learner. He can simply listen and be able to understand and remember what he has heard. Then there are those who need to touch and feel and interact to really grasp ideas. I suppose that I have a bit of that in me as well because I always studied while pacing back and forth. I was never able to just sit quietly in a library attempting to memorize facts. Without movement it was as though my brain was not working. Sometimes I even combined all three learning styles by walking back and forth in my room reading information out loud so that I might remember it for a test. I performed this ritual while preparing for exams on extremely difficult topics. 

I’ve learned the hard way that written communication can be totally misunderstood, regardless of how clearly I think my ideas are being expressed. Without the presence of vocal and facial cues people may misread a sentence or a comment . I have literally lost friends or angered family when I was not present to note their confusion and instantly clarify the intent of my remarks. Once feelings are hurt it is like picking up all of the feathers that have flown out of a down pillow. A kind of resentment remains and no apology seems to be sufficient. Our facial expressions and body language cues really do matter for the purpose of clarity. 

In today’s environment we would all do well to be more attuned to our communication skills because we seem to be talking over each other. Really understanding requires active listening. Our interactions should not be a debate in which we are constantly planning our next argument. Instead, it is always nice to attempt to understand why the other person is saying certain things. Suspending judgement can be difficult, but it is also the beginning of honest discourse. 

I hear a great deal of group speak these days. It’s lazy to categorize someone’s comments without finding out how they reached their conclusions. We’ve got some very bad habits of calling MAGA folk racists and fascists and Democrats communists and haters. The truth is that very few people fit into a neat mold. When we actually attempt to communicate with one another we begin to hear their voices and understand their histories and their needs. Using canned talking points de-legitimizes our individual personalities. 

We are products of our genetic structures, the environments in which we grew into adults, our educations, our experiences, our jobs. and so many other factors. Thinking and speaking and acting differently is a good thing that should be celebrated, but all too often divides us into camps. Really listening before talking is critical to the smooth functioning of our society. We seem to have lost the ability to appreciate the variety of our thoughts and dreams. 

The first step in reuniting should always be in finding our common ground for communicating. It requires practice to learn the ways in which people express themselves. If we take the time to understand who they are and where they are coming from we can lower our voices and sometimes even just sit together saying nothing. If we don’t make an effort to really hear the other person our conversations become little more than blathering. Take a deep breath and begin the process of really attempting to understand even the unfathomable conversations. It is a good step toward real communication. 


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