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Why Don’t We Listen Better?

It may seem ironic that we continually strive for connectedness in our relationships, and yet according to Petersen (2007), we fail to utilize the easiest and simplest means of achieving this. We just don’t listen. There are a million and one reasons why we don’t listen, but truly it all boils down to that connectedness we’re looking for and not finding, thus bringing us full circle in a dysfunctional cycle that it seems we cannot break out of.

As Petersen (2007) explains, we usually go into our communications with others with an agenda, whether we are aware of it or not, to be heard, to be understood, and to have our emotional needs met. However, in our quest to satisfy our agenda, we tend to forget that there are another person’s needs that must be factored into the communication equation in order for effective communication to take place. In addition, we get what Petersen (2007) calls “The Flat-Brain Syndrome. ” Flat-Brain Syndrome is a way to describe the emotional baggage we carry around and how it affects our ability to communicate with others.

Petersen (2007) metaphorically uses the stomach to illustrate our emotional centers, and claims that when these emotional centers get “upset”, or overloaded with too much emotional hurt that hasn’t been released or properly dealt with, it begins to affect our heart functions. Our heart acts as our relating center, the place where we take ownership of who we are, how we feel, and our opinions, and where we recognize that another person is, well, another person, with their own feelings and thoughts.

Sometimes, however, the swelling of our stomachs forces our hearts into brick-like shapes that simply cannot be open and giving to others. Once this happens, our brains become overloaded. Our heads are where we process everything – where we think, plan, review, remember, and decide. When our heads are overloaded and we get Flat-Brain Syndrome, our powers of perception are seriously distorted, leading to all kinds of interpersonal communication problems. There is hope, however, which Petersen (2007) offers in a very practical and engaging way.

After reviewing the reasons why people don’t listen, and explaining how important effective listening can be to interpersonal communication and to the connectedness and quality of our relationships, Petersen (2007) goes on to suggest several ways in which we can promote our listening skills and ensure positive communication. The foundation of his communications technique is “The Talker-Listener Card,” that he claims will serve to bring order to chaotic conversations by acting as a simple reminder of each person’s role and a kind of paper mediator.

The book also relates much advice for learning to talk effectively, so that we avoid the communication pitfalls of Flat-Brained speaking, which has the positive side effect of making it easier for others to effectively listen to us, and our needs are met while we are meeting the needs of others. Overall, this book is a practical guide to enhancing interpersonal communication and building effective relationships. YOU! There are many times in life when we all wish we could make someone understand what we are trying to say, or become frustrated when others aren’t saying what they really mean.

No one is a perfect communicator, and even people who have generally positive and healthy interactions will have communication problems sometimes. When reading this book, I really liked the idea of the “Talker-Listener Card,” because there are times when you need to set rules for communication. As anyone who has children knows, there are going to be times when you disagree on things, especially things like curfew, privileges, grades, etc.

This book made me remember one time with my oldest son when we were discussing his privileges, and he became frustrated, saying, “You just aren’t listening to me! ” Looking back, I can see that this was true. Despite the fact that I did not want him to do certain things, and was not going to allow him to do those things regardless of how much he wanted to, it would have furthered the communication if I had listened to and acknowledged how he felt.

Listening to someone and acknowledging them is separate from condoning or sharing their opinions or beliefs, which is something I think a lot of people tend to forget. Thankfully, I have been very good at this, for the most part, and am happy that my overall communications are positive and healthy, but I can see how many of the techniques mentioned in this book are helpful. LOOK! I feel that Petersen’s (2007) book is very useful and practical, but it bothers me that he doesn’t make any references to the Bible or God.

Without God to guide us and make us new and whole and healthy, we really are not capable of having healthy, connected relationships or positive interpersonal communications, regardless of how many listening or communication techniques we utilize. As Petersen (2007) asserts, the primary reason we do not listen is because our world is increasingly judgmental, and we are becoming more and more disconnected. This is a problem that cannot be fixed by continuing to do things and live life the way that we always have.

We can only move away from this judgment and disconnectedness by entering into a relationship with God, and starting a new life and a new walk with Him, doing things His way. However, I did agree with many of the things Petersen (2007) said in this book, and I feel that learning how to listen more effectively certainly cannot hurt anything. I also liked that the book discussed both sides of communication – talking and listening. I am curious, though, about the effectiveness of the “Talker-Listener Card” in certain situations where there is a LOT of past hurt and long established patterns of dysfunctional communication.

For these relationships it seems more likely that some intensive therapy may be needed before the individuals involved could move to this kind of self-regulation. DO! As I said before, nobody is perfect, and we can all use improvement in our interpersonal communication skills. For me, I think it is more a matter of avoiding Flat-Brain Syndrome, which I believe is, in a large part, due to stress and being overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done, in addition to frustration at our lack of connectedness and the dysfunctional or negative interactions we experience.

It occurs to me that avoiding Flat-Brain Syndrome is really all about our attitude, another reason why spending time in our relationship with God and learning from Him is so important to our communication. If we can successfully and appropriately move past our hurts and frustrations with other people, our stomachs won’t swell and we won’t get a brick-like heart or a flat brain, and the perspective we take on our lives, our relationships, and all those hurts and frustrations has a lot to do with how well we are able to move on emotionally.

Overall, I try to keep a positive and healthy perspective on things, and I have several very healthy, connected relationships that I can turn to for support to help me keep a good perspective. Thus, avoiding Flat-Brain Syndrome may be easier for me than for other people. As a mentor and counselor for others, I would definitely recommend Petersen’s (2007) book to individuals who are experiencing difficulties in their interpersonal communications, and to those who simply want to improve the connectedness and quality of their relationships.

The “Talker-Listener Card” I think could be especially helpful for married couples or pre-marital couples who just need a little help in learning to communicate more effectively, but don’t have a lot of major issues. I also think that as professionals we tend to teach by example more than we realize, and thus, being effective communicators and listeners is perhaps more important for us.

More often than not, the catalyst for change is seeing a better way, meaning that a person does not always realize the need for change until they see that change is possible, that things do not have to stay the same, and that there is another option, a better option. In short, effective interpersonal communication is essential to positive relationships, and is much more attainable than we may realize. It is my hope to be used by God to show people a better way and help them to live lives that are richer and more connected, and listening can definitely help me do that.

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