Taking each other seriously

All of these blogs thus far are nice and all. Us humans are wired for social connection. Social connection is really good for us. Both physically and psychologically. Blah blah blah. But what is good social connection? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do we know when we’re getting it? How do we get it? How do we give it to others?

There’s this friend of a friend who I occasionally see at the odd event or gathering or dinner. For ages I’ve been completely perplexed by this dude. My friends seem to really enjoy his company and they describe him as funny and nice and intelligent. But all of this is lost on me. Initially I just assumed he must think I am an idiot. Obvs. Over the course of a number of years, I have never been able to connect with him. And now I am going to put all the blame onto him. Obvs.

Firstly, he has a tendency to speak really quietly out of the side of his mouth to the person/s directly to the side of him. This makes any conversation difficult when you sit on the other side of the table. And he mumbles. His eye contact is incredibly poor. Secondly, when I offer something to the conversation, he will never engage in the topic. And often he will immediately change or dismiss the topic. And in all this time, and despite my best efforts to engage him in conversation, he has never once asked me a question. This could be because he thinks I am an idiot. Or his capacity for connection with me is a bit deficient.

Social psychologist, researcher and writer, Hugh Mackay reckons that human behaviours are motivated by ten main desires. When it comes to social connection, there’s one of these that I think is particularly important in determining how we relate to others and how we want others to relate to us – that’s the desire to be taken seriously.

To some degree, all of us want to be taken seriously. We want to be noticed, accepted, appreciated, valued and understood. Perhaps as we get older, we want to make sure we’ll be remembered.

When I engage with the fellow mentioned above do I have the opportunity to feel that I have been taken seriously? Hell no! The truth of the matter is, that I’ve been taken more seriously by puppies than this gentlemen. And as a result, I haven’t yet had a good connection with this guy.

And how do we ensure that we take others seriously? We really only need to do a few simple things.

It’s the desire to be taken seriously that explains why people who listen are the most wonderful people in our society. Is there a better experience than when someone gives you the gift of their undivided attention? It’s not just that they’re listening, it’s the message that they’re taking you seriously enough to listen. And the opposite is true too, when people are looking over your shoulder hoping to find someone more interesting to speak to. Again, listening is just the symptom here. What’s really being said is that this person is not taking me seriously.
And I’m talking about active listening here. Listening to understand. Not, listening to reply.
When we give others our undivided attention, the clear message is – I am taking you seriously as a human being. It’s probably why counselling is generally so effective. The counselling relationship and model, says to the client – This is about you. I am here to listen. I am taking you seriously. And all of us need to know that someone is.
  1. Reduce our need to control.
This is another of our great big desires, but as Hugh Mackay notes, one of the more “troublesome” ones. Us humans really like to control things. But if we really want to connect with something, this desire can get in the way.
Most of us stumble through life hoping to be able to control the uncontrollable, such as the weather and the traffic, and, most especially, each other! It takes us a long time to realise – and then accept – that the only life we can control is our own and, when it comes to weather or traffic or the myriad other external events and circumstances that affect our lives, the only thing we can control is our reaction to those external forces.
When we feel the need to impose our own views and “shoulds” on others, they often start running away from us – either emotionally or physically. We are all individual entities, and if we continue to hope or expect something from each social connection we have we will continue to be disappointed.
  1. Respect each other’s differences.
If we can all acknowledge that we share the same basic desire; to be taken seriously, to be heard and that we matter, what can we do to ensure that our unique views are heard while avoiding as best we can, conflict and opposition?According to Hugh Mackay, it all comes down to the method with which we interact…
“So the way we listen to each other, the way we respect each other’s passions (even if we don’t share them), the way we respond to each other’s needs, the way we make – or don’t make – time for each other… all these things send clear signals about the extent to which we are taking each other seriously”.
All of our views of the world and how we live in it are going to be a bit different. That’s because each of us has had a different life experience, each of us has a different temperament, personality, environment. We’ve all experienced love, support and security in a different way. Our accessibility to education and knowledge is different.
Knowing this and knowing that the basic desire is the same, we can start from a place of compassion and acceptance. When we accept, we judge less. When we judge less the capacity for response and connection is truly open.

So, the desire to be taken seriously, a possible starting point for us to form good social connections. It does have a dark side though. When we feel as though we’re not being taken seriously, we can become incredibly frustrated and cranky.  But maybe it’s possible, if we go into our dealings with others, recognising that they too want the same thing as we do, we end up with interactions filled with patience, a little more kindness and a little more compassion? And listening. I’m a big fan of listening.

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