Why Listening is a Badass Super Power — especially for Men
First of all, I am talking about really listening, not bullshit listening. If you have never experienced drinking in your partner (or someone dear to you), mentally deep diving into their world, feeling them up with your heart, absorbing their vibrating essence on a cellular level, then you have not been really listening.
When I searched for online images with the single key word “listening”, the vast majority were animal pics! Looks like we are outdone by the other species. Side note: isn’t this dog adorable?
Anyway… Out of those fewer pics with actual humans in them, 90% of them depicted women listening to one another.
When I typed in “listening… man… woman”, I got pics like this:
But, I digress. And lets dig into this after we look the seven compelling reasons (whether you are a women or a man) for you to learn to really listen to other people. When I say “other people” what I mean is especially those dearest and nearest to you, like… wink wink, nudge nudge… your intimate partner!
1. Listening De-escalates Intense Emotions
Have you ever told your partner that you are hurt and pissed at them?
What’s most common for all of us who are confronted this way is for our brain’s early warning and defence systems to become activated. Despite our default of having a keen intelligence or deep love for our partner, at that moment, our brains gets hijacked and our nervous system becomes flooded with one of the 3 F’s: fight, flight or freeze. We either want to avoid responsibility and blame by defending ourselves or walking away (FLIGHT), countering with how they are wrong or have hurt us also (FIGHT) or crossing our arms and shutting down (FREEZE). None of this is by choice. It’s our animal instincts, hard wired into us from cave man and cave women times.
When we are the one who is upset and the other person responds with one of the 3 F’s, we feel our blood boil even more, right? It’s because our righteous anger and hurt is being invalidated and dismissed. And our needs — the reason we are pissed and hurt in the first place — are not being respected nor responded to. We are left feeling alone and vulnerable.
At the moment of threat and hyper arousal, our logical brain is on vacation. Reason and facts are useless. The problem is not logical but emotional.
Switching shoes here for a moment. When we find ourselves standing before our emotionally dis-regulated partner, the quickest and most effective way we can help them (and ourselves as their emotions stir ours) is to do something that helps us both to emotionally de-escalate. We do this by giving a signal that shows our partner that we are taking in the pain and anger that they feel.
This is the basis of really listening. If someone throws you a ball and you refuse to catch it, it hits you (hopefully not somewhere vulnerable). The other crappy thing that happens is that the person who threw it gets annoyed and after too many repeated fails like this, they get tired of trying to play with you. The same goes in a relationship. When your partner shares a strong emotion (especially a negative one), if you refuse to catch it, be aware of not only their wrath, but also of how much this weakens your bond. If you do catch it, you disable it potency and make your bond stronger.
2. Listening Disarms Criticism and Blame
I have come to see listening — really taking in the view of someone other than myself — as a martial arts strategy that is incredibly effective in both physical and verbal conflicts. In practicing the martial art of Aikido, I’ve learned to blend with the attacks (punches, grabs, etc.) of my partners to be able to disarm them better. Blending works on embodying the principle of water:
“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” — Lao Tzu
In a verbal argument, especially within an intimate bond, the stakes are high and the pain is deep. An eye roll, a sneer or even a hint of sarcasm can throw us into deep emotional turmoil. And when our partner starts insinuating blame or criticizing us directly, it can easily cause our kettle to explode with pent up anger.
Here again, listening reveals itself to be a most powerful first step, which disarms hostility and misunderstanding from the other person. Paradoxically, as we listen to and blend with what they share — neither blocking it nor taking it personally — we are able to side step the sharp edge of their attacks to deeply influence their nervous system. It is our listening which makes their grip on the knife which they have been twisting into your most tender and wounded places relax. It makes them see you a little less as an enemy and opens them up the possibility for a new interaction to happen.
3. Listening Makes your Partner Want to Listen to YOU
When we listen to them, our partners’ emotions settle (at least a bit) and they feel less motivated to attack or defend. They may not be fully ready to take us in just yet, as it takes time to sooth the primitive brain that has gone into fight, flight or freeze. But, what is undeniable is that the probability of their desire and capacity to listen to us has increased in proportion to our willingness and ability to listen.
If you doubt that last statement, try not listening. Invalidate your partner for a bit and watch how their reactive brains swirl with the negative cocktail you hate to see bubbling up. Or maybe, don’t do that. Learn to trust your past experience. You have the power to use listening as a super power, to become the leader in your relationship, and to be the brave one who breaks the cycle of disconnection and war that most couples get locked into.
4. Listening is a Serious Aphrodisiac
This is a nice side effect. If there was any chance of getting lucky with your loved one tonight, it certainly ain’t happening if you are locking horns and hating one another. Listening to them not only increases your chances, it’s also deeply attractive.
I remember reading this somewhere (too lazy to search now) where some relationship expert stated what I take now (after years of marriage) as incredibly obvious:
We are most irresistibly attracted to someone who is totally present: neither terribly needy nor too independent and self-absorbed, but simply and fully “there” with us.
Yes, we do have our own needs and desires, and so it’s not about being an empty cup taking in only your partner. But, when we let our own inner world just exist, containing the universe that is ourselves while turning towards our partner and making space for them, a deep magnetic force draws them towards us.
The cynic in us may say, “Well that just confirms how vain we all are. We all just want to be seen and paid attention to.”
The idealist in me says, “The need to be seen is human and beautiful.”
The realist adds, “It’s sexy to be seen and to really see others. So, just do it more, man!”
5. Listening Helps You to SEE Your Partner and Yourself More Clearly.
As human beings, we simultaneously yearn to be understood and gotten by others while also being deeply self-absorbed. We constantly project onto the world how we feel about ourselves. We hardly ever really see the world as it is. And we hardly get to know the people closest to us. Instead we hold on to images of who we want them to be or who they used to be.
They say that KNOWLEDGE is POWER. I believe that knowledge is the potential (the seed) of power. When that seed is watered with small acts, it becomes power. To know thyself and to really understand your partner — sussing out what drives you both — is the seed of power necessary to being able to create the joyful and deeply satisfying relationships we have been longing for. This intimate knowledge is also essential to becoming free and able to fully realize our own potential as individuals on the journey of life together. Listening is the guiding light that helps us to find this important knowledge within ourselves and our partner.
Something wild and wonderful happens when we deeply listen to our partner. First, when we listen we start to see things in our partner we had not noticed before. They stop being this construct of personality traits and predictable responses (which has become reliable and comforting, while also less likely to stoke our passions). They start to surprise us.
Second, we start to distinguish the ways that we are similar and different more objectively. Instead of expecting that they will always get our jokes or want the same things, we start to accept them for the unique ways they see the world and the dreams they have that expand our horizons in ways we could never do on our own.
The third aspect to listening here is absolutely critical. We can never fully know ourselves without seeing ourselves through the eyes of another. Hence the theory of the Johari window.
Notice our “blind spot” in the diagram. That is precisely the invaluable gift we can offer our partner and what they can offer us.
6. Listening Gives you Purpose and Meaning
Say what? Really?
You may be prone to think that meaning and purpose comes to us when we shun other people, go up on some mountain top and listen to something deep inside of us. I want to challenge that notion. I see our purpose in life as an ongoing story that is ever evolving and directly relevant to our day to day lives, more so than just a freaky, static, one time peak experience. This is because I believe that our deepest drive — active in us in every moment — is to learn, grow and evolve.
None of us can fulfill our purpose to grow and evolve if we don’t listen.
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” ~ Larry King
We all rely on assumptions and stories we tell ourselves over and over again to maintain the illusion of consistency in who we think we are and certainty in how we believe the world works.
When we really listen it affects us profoundly, colouring your previous thinking, melting and reformulating how we see the world. When we let go of our small minded answers, to listen, what we discover are larger and deeper questions and more complex and accurate understandings.
Listening is the vital process to be able to evolve from hungry and self absorbed caterpillars (consuming rats in the race of life that many of us are) into more liberated butterflies. Okay, you are not a glorified insect nor a rat and mixing metaphors is just confusing, but you get the analogies, yes?
7. Listening Makes You Braver, Kinder, Stronger and Wiser
Maybe the last point was too broad and mind-blowing, or vague and esoteric for you.
Lets be more specific. I write this point from the reference of seeing certain friends and mentors, whom I see as masters of the art of listening and thus super heroes at it.
When you practice the art of really listening, it changes you in ways that the world needs. In ways that your partner craves. In ways that your children will remember and carry forward to future generations.
First, the practice of deep listening makes us all braver. To let go of a tight grip we may hold onto ourselves in order to reach forward and take in another is itself an act of courage, every time.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~ Winston Churchill
No other way to become courageous than by practicing acts of courage — like listening.
Second, listening makes us kinder. How can taking on the perspective of another not make us more compassionate? Meanness and criticism come from a fundamental lack of understanding of the other person. Once we know what they have been through and why they have done what they did, it becomes harder to judge and harder to feel separate from them. Ultimately, if our listening fails to make us kinder, we are doing it wrong!
Third, listening makes us stronger. I mean that in the psychological and emotional sense mostly. Every time we listen to and truly take in another — because we are empathic creatures, with mirror neurons in our brains that stir emotions to resonate with others — we get exposed and inoculated to emotions that we might otherwise avoid. The pain and sorrow of a friend grieving infects us and so we learn to hold it and digest it. This works also with profound and positive emotions. When we absorb and relate to another’s joy and awe, it opens us up to the magic and beauty of life. We are bigger and stronger in our hearts (fancy word for this in psychology is “resilient”) because we dared to listen.
Lastly, listening makes us wiser. I don’t mean more clever or full of information — though that may happen as well. I mean wiser in the sense of holding the complexity and mystery of life and being able to make better decisions to steer ourselves in life. How does listening do that? When we listen we have to take in and make room for more perspectives. We have to embrace contradictions. Doing so, expands our minds first. Then, by listening to how others navigated their decisions, we have the fortune to notice patterns and learn from their errors and successes. Of course, we could just passively observe, and get very little more than entertainment, but I am again suggesting we actively listen, grappling to deeply understand the lives that others are living. That is where wisdom is born.
Not 100% convinced?
Give me a good reason NOT to listen (to your partner especially) and I will add it to this article.
Now, lets address why is listening a potential super power, “especially” for men?
Though listening is a super power for any person of any gender, I believe that listening is especially a potent force for men to learn and master — more so than for women — because (in general) lets be frank, we really do suck at it more. That’s not to put men down. Nor to play the blame game. Bear with me here…
As men, we have been socialized from early on to not listen well. As boys, we may have been chastised by women (moms and teachers mostly) for our lack of attention to them, but in fact we were dutifully following the instructions we received for how to be a man. Instead of learning how to take others in, we were rewarded for putting ourselves out. If we expressed our sensitivity and care for others, we could be mocked and cast out of the circle of boys for being weak and girly. At the same time, the warm arms of boys were wrapped around us and we were championed for being assertive and impermeable to the influence of others, for this is seen as “strength” and “manliness”.
The tragedy for us as men here — not having the power of listening be valued by the world of men — is that we are doubly handicapped: in relationships with others as well as with ourselves. Ask a typical man what he feels or needs and watch his eyes glaze over or spit out the socially expected answer, “Good.”
The rare man who retains his sensitivity growing up and keenly studies and learns to listen is miles ahead of the rest of men these days. He is well endowed with a super power that is all the more exceptional because of how rare it is!
Meanwhile, women, have had this advantage in the arena of relating for millennia. They’ve being socialized from early on to at least make like they are listening and considering the opinions of others. Their suffering and disadvantage has come from being been forced to submit to the needs of others and not to listen to nor value themselves.
Common to both genders: there is a real deficit in people being listened to.Focusing on mastering other super powers first…?
You can find a lot of skills to focus on learning and even mastering.
Here’s my two cents:
Which skill are you most lacking and needing as a man?
Which skill will make the most positive impact on your relationship glory and personal sanity?
If you still want to learn to balance a ladder on your bearded hipster face, I applaud you and support you. BUT, please know, listening does not have to take away from your singular obsessions. If you let go of trying to fix or respond with some pithy comment and just actually listen to your most significant other(s), you can even practice doing so at the same time as you do more purely physical tasks like this.
My wife is shaking her head as she reads this over my shoulder. I am apparently bad at such multi-tasking. Hmmm… Listening and agreeing are not the same. And I still have a lot to learn about the later.
All of this article to say…
Do you want to learn some quick and simple hacks to become more masterful at the art of deep LISTENING?
If so, let me know with a comment and that will encourage me to prioritize getting that article up here — sooner than the 26 other pieces I am currently honing in draft mode!
Also and any additional thoughts you have about the value of deep listening, I am all ears in the comments below…
Related readings from David…
MEN and RELATIONSHIPS →
MASTERING CONFLICT (3 part series) →
- The 3 SHAPES of CONFLICT: how do you fight with your partner?
- The 5 Elements of Masting Conflict
- WHERE can we learn to do conflicts better?