The Subtle Art of Listening: It’s NOT About the Nail

Listening is a subtle art. Has this ever happened to you? Your spouse is expressing a concern, then all of the sudden you are told that you are NOT actually listening, and now you just started a fight. Sound familiar?

If so, then you are not alone. Watch this quick video and then we will discuss the subtle art of listening. Before going any further, no one is the bad guy here. So take a deep breath and let’s look at what is really going on.

As the listener in the video points out the nail and gives solutions to fix the problem, the speaker becomes upset and frustrated that she is not being heard. It happens so quickly that it can be hard to see what he is missing.

Let’s listen again. She describes relentless pressure and literally feeling it in her head. Then she expresses her emotions, saying, “I don’t know if it’s ever going to stop. That’s the thing that scares me the most.”

The listener’s heart is in the right place; it seems that he doesn’t want to see his wife experience pain, and removing the nail is a logical solution. But, when the listener does this, he misses the point of what is being said, and then she predictably feels misunderstood. As strange as it may sound, feelings are not resolved logically and fixing is not listening.

Now imagine how this conversation would have gone if the he had responded sooner to her fears with, “that sounds really hard.”  That may seem like an inauthentic response, but what gets communicated instead is: “I am here for you and you are not alone.” Emotions are the cue for the listener’s response. Pay attention to the emotion–you don’t need to have all the answers. Remember when you are listening: it’s not about the nail.


Dustin Ellis, CIT

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