Skip to main content

Learning to Listen Differently

Once upon a time, I got into a very big fight with a friend. The kind of fight where bad words are said, and voices are raised, and tears are shed.

We lived several provinces apart at the time, and since it was our only option, we skyped to try and resolve things. The first conversation ended in a stalemate, and we agreed to connect again in a week.

At the beginning of the second call, we established something important; although her friends thought I was being a (w)itch and my friends thought she was being a baby, we were not willing to give up on our friendship. So we talked. Through the entire Super Bowl. And at the end, we still hadn't sorted things out. 

I remember walking into the kitchen a little later, praying, "Jesus, if there is something I need to say or do that I haven't, show me what it is. Because I honestly don't know how to fix it."

Then it hit me. So I sat down and emailed her. And she emailed me back. And it was over.

The next morning, I texted her before I even got out of bed.

"We're good, right!? Really and truly! I woke up happy for the first time since this started."


A couple weeks ago, my husband and I had a disagreement brewing. It wasn't a blowout, but over the course of a couple days we tried to resolve things, and failed. On the third day, we sat staring at each other as we reiterated all the same things we'd said before.

I know we both want to figure this out, I thought. So where is the common ground? What am I not hearing?

"Can you tell me again what you're trying to say?" I asked him. "I feel like I'm not really hearing you, and I want to try to listen differently."

He sighed, but tried again, and it was as if all the clich├ęs about lightbulbs turning on and curtains opening and walls crumbling were true. I heard something that I hadn't been able to recognize in the first three attempts. And I knew exactly what I needed to say to him.


As I've been thinking about these two stories, and what exactly changed internally for me that enabled us to resolve things, I realized something:

Defensive listening is not like defensive driving.

Way back in driver's ed, I learned to drive defensively, to look out for myself and be appropriately cautious. It works. It keeps us safe. It's wise.

But defensive listening is the exact opposite. In the context of a relationship, defensive listening focuses on me instead of them, and assumes that my stance/feelings/experience needs to be protected from the other person.

It is the very opposite of trust.

In both these stories, I finally let go of my defensive filter. I set aside my conviction that I was in the right and genuinely tried to hear how they felt.

And in both situations, I realized that I needed to say both, "Thank you," and "I'm sorry." 

"Thank you for being honest with me. I didn't realize this connects into a much bigger story. I'm sorry I was thoughtless; I was only looking out for me."

"Thank you for trying to care for me. I'm sorry I didn't see that and brushed you aside."


Conflict happens.

I've historically run from it as quickly as I can, or shut down and tried to power on through with all my defenses up.

But I'm learning that if I take time to turn off the ingrained habit of defensive listening, we can come together. We can make progress. We experience love and forgiveness.

And next time, it just might be a little easier.


Popular posts from this blog

What About Travis!?

I just watched Hope Floats, the second movie in my I-really-need-to-vegetate night. Now that we have more than three channels, there are so many quality programs on TV! Like movies in the middle of the week. I enjoyed many of the lines in this movie, including:

"I went home and told my mama you had a seizure in my mouth."
(referring to her first french-kissing experience)

"Dancing's just a conversation between two people. Talk to me."
(the conversation in our living room then went,
Girl 1: Only Harry Connick Jr. could say that line without it being incredibly cheezy.
Boy: Without it being cheezy? That's all I heard. Cheez, cheez, cheez.
Girl 2: Yeah, but it was sexy, sexy cheez...sigh.)
"Better do what she says, Travis. Grandma stuffs little dogs."

Bernice: At home we had a pet skunk. Mama used to call it Justin Matisse. Do you think that's just a coincidence? All day long she would scream, "You stink Justin Matisse!" Then one day she just…

Fostering FAQ: How Can You Say Goodbye?

It seems I finally have something(s) to say... Here's the first in a short (or maybe long?) series on Fostering FAQs. If you've got a question to add, feel free to comment/email/text/message me and maybe the next post will be in response.


8:30 am on Day 4 of parenting. I woke up in a panic two hours ago because I remembered that there is a baby and I am responsible for her (at least at 6:30am, when the man beside me will snore through anything). Now, I have put on clothes and eaten breakfast. The dogs are walked, there is a loaf of banana bread in the oven. My tea is steeping. Most importantly, Dream Baby is already down for her first nap.

Despite my morning efficiency, I'm already beginning to see that even with the happiest, most easygoing, and smiliest baby, like we somehow managed to be given, parenting is a grind. On Friday night, I couldn't join friends for $5 pints at a local joint. Instead, I blearily washed the same 8 bottles again, and then made another ba…

Fostering FAQ: How Long Will She Stay/Will You Adopt Her?

Our first foster baby came with about 18 hours notice; it was respite care, which means we had him for a few days while his regular foster family had a break/dealt with a family emergency. He stayed 3 nights, long enough to come to church and have a dozen people cooing over his little sleeping cheeks.  With each new visitor to our quiet corner, I explained again that he would be going back to his foster family the next day.

Barely a week later, we got a 9am phone call with a fostering request and by the same afternoon, we were snuggling her. This time, we had her for 4 days before church came around. Again, our community was keen to see the little one we had in tow. Again, the question, "How long will she stay?" And this time, "Are you going to adopt her?"


Here in Toronto, when a child is placed in foster care, it is always for an indefinite length of time. It depends on the parents' situation, and whether they are able to make a safe home environment for th…