kid closing ears

“I Can’t Hear” or “I Can’t Listen”?

Most of my blog posts are inspired by real life occurrences that get me thinking more deeply about what just happened. 

They then become a platform that I use to try to tie in some lessons that are (hopefully) useful for families.

When I’m also able to bring in some humour and unexpected language twists, writing them becomes even more enjoyable for me.

Of course I always hope that readers get something from them too!

 

A Communications Problem Example

This week’s “inspirational” incident comes from a Zoom call I was recently part of with someone from a European country where English is not the main language.

We were trying to get the call started, but the person on the other end was having some difficulty, because of a technical issue.  I could hear her just fine, but she was unable to hear me.

For added context, this was a person I’d never spoken to before, although we had exchanged some emails around the scheduling of this call.  

Without delving too deep into the details, let’s just say that this person also wielded a certain amount of power over me at the time.

 

“I Cannot Listen to You”

So now imagine if you will, the feeling in my gut when the first words I heard out of her mouth are, “I cannot listen to you”.

She then repeated that a couple of times, seemingly louder each time, as typically happens when people with different first languages are trying to communicate.

It took a few seconds, which seemed longer at the time, for me to realize that what she was trying to tell me was that she simply couldn’t HEAR me.

She was indeed willing to listen to me, in fact that was the main purpose of the call in this case, but she had difficulty with the first essential element of that, i.e. hearing me.

The confusion was only felt on my end and it didn’t last long, thankfully. Just long enough for me laugh (internally) and to note the story for an upcoming blog.

 

Business Family Versions

Anyone who has ever been involved with family businesses and the business families who run them, will instantly be able to relate some anecdotes about the differences between hearing and listening.

The most common ones might involve someone we’ll call “Dad”, whose hearing is just fine, but who practises what some might call “selective listening”.

The frustrating part of this can be simple at times, but gets more complex as it becomes habitual.  Let me expand on that.

 

Acute versus Chronic

An occasional situation where someone says something but the intended receiver doesn’t properly hear them would fall into a category I’ll call “acute”, or “incidental”.

This could be looked at as the simplest version of my favourite quote about communication, courtesy of George Bernard Shaw:

               “The biggest problem with communication 

                   is the illusion that it has taken place”

Once the situation is recognized it can be corrected, hopefully before too much damage has been done, and maybe the people involved will even learn something about how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

The Same Old, Same Old

When these things happen all the time, the situation would be better described as “chronic” or “habitual”

Now you’re getting really frustrated because the person seemingly just won’t listen.

This can be tough in a family business, especially when the one who won’t listen is the parent, and their offspring (i.e. former “children”, now adults) still think that they can get the parent to listen.

If it hasn’t worked for the past 10 years, why would it work now?

 

Recognizing Your Limits

It’s usually better to recognize the limits of your persuasion with such people and find ways to get things done without expecting them to suddenly listen.

In fact, there are situations that could be worse, and we’re now going to close the loop from the start of this post.

This might happen more between siblings than between different generations, but the “I cannot listen to you”, in it’s true sense, is probably as bad a communication issue as you can find in any family business.

At that point, it may be best to figure out how each can go their separate ways. See:  FamBiz Conflict:  In PIECES for the Sake of PEACE?

Even big fans of family business need to recognize that nothing lasts forever.