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Men and Listening

April 26, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

With their single-minded focus, men are actually excellent listeners.

How many times does my husband lose things that he is completely unable to find, no matter how “hard” he looks? And how often do I walk over to assist him only to discover that the item is right in front of his face? And how frequently do I ask him in frustration, “Did you actually look?” It seems impossible to me that anyone who was sincerely looking couldn’t find it. I even cite a quote from the Talmud to support my position, “If someone says they tried and didn’t find it, don’t believe them…”

And the annoyance grows. I thought it was just my husband. I thought he was a little absent-minded. I thought he was busy living in the world of ideas and leaving the practical world to run itself (well, actually leaving me to run it!).

Until I read some of the thoughts of Alison Armstrong, a prominent speaker and writer whose focus is helping women to understand men. She suggests that this difficulty in finding things is actually quite common – and reflective of certain unique masculine skills.

Men are capable of extraordinary single-minded focus. It’s not that women aren’t but our strengths run more in the multi-tasking arena. What does this have to do with finding things? When men are looking for something, suggests Ms. Armstrong, they look at each individual item separately. Women, on the other hand, tend to flit all around the room, scanning the whole picture and making them more likely to alight on the missing object.

This is an interesting insight – but not that important.

There is an area, however, where men’s single-minded focus is much more relevant – the area of listening. How many of us have labeled our husbands (or men in general) poor listeners? There are a lot of hands raised. I think that perhaps we are mistaken about this (and so does Alison Armstrong).

Men are actually excellent listeners. They can turn all that single-minded focus on us and pay rapt attention to everything we say.

Our challenge is that we tend to talk to them when they are focused on something else, when their attention is already engaged – when they’re on the phone (my particular weakness), watching television, playing sports or doing those household chores we’re always pestering them about. So they don’t listen. Not because they don’t want to. Not because they don’t care. Not because we’re not important to them. But because they’re occupied with something else. It’s one thing at a time for men.

This idea revolutionized my approach to my husband. Now I know when to keep my mouth shut (easier said than done!) and when to use that single-minded focus to my advantage.

Men’s ability to concentrate on the thing/person in front of them makes them incredible listeners. It upends the stereotype. However it poses a new dilemma – what does a woman’s ability to multi-task, to leap from topic to topic in our thoughts say about our ability to listen? Now that I’ve let my husband off the hook, it seems I need to work on my listening skills!


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