It was the three of us that night. It was grown men slumming it on the couch, randomly browsing through Facebook, acting like jokers. We were enjoying ourselves when, seemingly out of nowhere, we found ourselves in the middle of a heated discussion. Words were being exchanged but something wasn’t getting across.
I felt like a dead mic. As though I were saying all the right things but the amp had blown up. Static. It was frustrating. No matter what I had to say or how appropriate I thought it was, he wasn’t hearing it.
Then finally he broke. “I already know all this, man. I’m just trying to explain how I’m feeling but ya’ll won’t listen. You’re just trying to tell me what’s right. Sometimes, it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s just knowing that there’s someone who sides with you.”
The funny thing is he felt the same way I did.
It’s a tricky thing–that thing they call communication. We know it’s the key to any solid relationship. It sounds basic. Yet, it’s one of the hardest things on earth to master. I know this because I’ve been in situations in which there was a lapse of communication. I know this because as a speaker and writer I still find myself constantly misunderstood. And there wouldn’t be so many books written on this topic and this entry wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t.
We can talk about all the various psychological, biological and other factors involved here. How most men are wired or trained to fix a problem or share facts and figures (“report talk”), whereas women look to talk for the sake of intimacy and building relationship (“rapport talk”). Or how men talk to establish status while women talk to express feelings. Blah blah blah…
Perhaps some of that might explain why we weren’t totally getting him. He was cutting loose on his innards while we just wanted facts and resolution to the matter.
What I think it boils down to is this. Being quick to listen, slow to speak. It’s about learning to understand people’s perspective, sympathize with their story, and reassure them that you “get them” before you get in your two cents.
It might be difficult for some of us because we live in a society that has taught us to look for quick fixes, assume the worst about others, and make our voices heard. We are the iGeneration that has become all about self and consumption and words like “easy” and “instantaneous.” (Perhaps this is why DFW’s commencement speech resonates so much with us in our present time.)
But I had to ask myself: How many of my past friendships and relationships have been lost on this failure to communicate? To really listen to their fears, needs and struggles? To side with them, regardless of whether they were wrong or right?
As I sat there for the remainder of the evening, I tried to listen. I had to die to my need to speak. I had to lay aside my subconscious want to claim independence or wisdom by saying the “right things.” He needed open ears more than sharp counsel.
After all, he knew the battle that he was fighting. He didn’t need me to tell him who the enemy was or how to put on his flak jacket. At the end of the day, he just needed to know that there was a brother who was with him in the trenches.
“I’m with you, bro.”
Sometimes, that’s all it takes for a man to gear up and fight another day.