Culture, Perspectives, Relationships

You‘re just not listening

 [Photo courtesy of EBM Photography: thanks Emma!]

I have a lot to say. I could talk for Britain if you let me. But hardly anyone does and this, in the words of Peter Griffin, really grinds my gears! I feel at times I could explode with frustration. I want to be heard and I want people to show some damn respect and listen.

And I mean actively listen. Without staring into phones. Without being distracted. Without edging out the door and rushing me to finish my sentences. Without tuning out and thinking about what you’d rather be doing. I can tell by that glazed look in your eyes. You think I was born yesterday but facial expressions, tone of voice, response time and eyes in particular, give you away.

I get the feeling I am not interesting. I’m quirky, weird even. I’m British– so the slightly eccentric quirky quality is part of the DNA, sorry. And I am slightly OCD, old fashioned, and a bit of a bossy boots know it all. But I like to talk. I love words. I like to communicate. I like to know people’s perspectives on things and I like to debate and have a good hearty conversation once in a while. I find staring at memes and what’s trending pretty pointless and boring and I really am not interested in all the social media rants and selfies people take. I love to listen to people and get to know what is really driving them, what is going on in their lives and how they are feeling. I want to know them. Idle chit chat and gossip is dull and doesn’t help us grow. It doesn’t have value nor enriches our lives.

I like to build relationships with people. With friends and family. Building trust and intimacy.

I make time. I chisel out time in my fully booked schedule and I make sure I commit and give you 100% focus and attention. It might not be often but when I pencil you in, I make sure you have all my focus and I actively listen to what you’re saying. I’m only human and sometimes I slip up and check my phone but I will apologise and promptly put the phone away chastising myself under my breath. I also remember all the small stuff. All the little details and things that make you, you. I read your body language and I empathize and feel the things you talk about as if I were there. I put myself into your shoes and imagine from your perspective how you feel then I try to figure out how I feel about that and what I would do in your situation. I can’t help it. I’m always thinking, feeling and analyzing and my brain doesn’t switch off. I like to offer objective suggestions. I want to be involved as a friend and family member and I want to help where I can. I want to get into the nitty gritty and support you. Or just catch up and laugh.

But despite my efforts, it seems people ignore me. You’d think I’d be used to it by now though. Most people talk over me. And some talk behind my back. That playground behaviour is annoying. Some friends will start a WhatsApp conversation then just not reply half way through it … for days.

I think, “hello?! You still there? Are you listening?”

If you have to go suddenly or cut the conversation short then bloody well open your mouth and tell me. God gave you vocal cords and fingers so use them! A simple “g2g” (got to go) will suffice. How lazy are you that you cannot type 3 characters? In my family, at work, in groups of friends and at parties it seems people never let me finish a sentence and half the time I sit in silence listening, waiting my turn whilst the other half is me trying to butt in sounding like a record got stuck or an old car is trying to start. When I start talking someone quickly jumps in and takes over and then the conversation changes topic and once again, I don’t get to voice my opinion. Sometimes I feel I should be more Italian-esque and just rant over people, increase the volume, stomp my feet and use hand gestures more. I guess that’s the trouble being slightly introvert. Us introverts just can’t do that. The extroverts don’t have that issue– That’s my family.

It hasn’t helped with my confidence in speaking either. I just don’t get my hopes up anymore. When I start to throw my 2 cents worth into a conversation I know it won’t get far but on the odd and rare occasion when someone lets me talk, it throws me completely and I get all stuttery and think, “oh wow. They actually are listening?!” Then I lose my train of thought and I’m like, “OK, not used to this.” It’s rare. And it’s pretty refreshing, amazing and exciting. Exciting? That someone actually listens is exciting … what world are we living in?!

What is really annoying is the feeling I am repeating myself over and over. When friends and family come to me for advice, I drop everything, go running and give up my time and cancel my plans and I help them straight away. I even pull all-nighters to help them with projects and deadlines. And I am on a different time zone! I try to teach and show them things. I explain and suggest things. I use my knowledge and experience to help them grow and learn. I love to see people excel and succeed. But do they listen to my opinion and advice? I end up repeating myself over and over and I think to myself, “I have said this so many times before. What is the fucking point?” I guess people just like to nag and moan but don’t actually want solutions. They don’t actually want to fix their problems otherwise what else would they have to talk about? Hearing the same shit every day is mind numbingly dull. Bored now, deal with the issue and move on please.

That’s probably where I’m going wrong. Next time I will just have a tape recorder playing, “uh huh, hmmm, yeah, wow, okay” and they probably won’t even know I’m not there. I’m fed up of giving all my time and energy to the wrong people who don’t want to listen, who don’t want to change their lives or do something about their problems. They only waste my time, drain me of my energy (more like suck the life out of me like a Death Eater) and I have better things to do like dedicate my time to those who do listen.

And not only that, but they don’t remember things about me or what is going on in my life. I am confident and independent enough to know that people have their own lives and it doesn’t all revolve around me. I’m not insecure. I know things drag people away and there are always dramas and problems, people get married and have kids, but it would be nice when I catch up with friends if we could pick up where we last left off but often I end up saying the exact same things as before. They just don’t seem to retain anything about me so we don’t actually get any further forward. They still don’t know my favourite colour, that I have been gluten free for 10 years and that I’m blind in one eye from birth. That I have 3 siblings and what did I study again? Basic stuff. Remembering little things, taking an active interest in your friends’ and families’ lives shows you care and that builds trust. It can’t happen instantly. It grows and builds over time but it is so easy to break and ruin. And without trust, I just don’t feel safe to show you the real me.

It’s time to ditch the people who don’t give a monkeys about me and cull the friends lists I think.

I’ve had a shit day today at work which has inspired this rant. I currently have two jobs. I work in a bank handling foreign currencies and Western Union money transfers and I am on call at a department store in fine jewellery. Where I work, we have many international customers from all over the world as well as Germans. And as part of my job I like to make sure my customers are getting the right product or service for their needs, I am not on commission based pay so there isn’t a need to push for hard sales. I’m genuine (and rare) and would rather sell a product for a lower price but one that suits the needs and wants of the customer. They are also likely to return that way too. I like to explain to my customers how things work and talk about the guarantees and important information they should know about. I take my time and I advise, educate and give an all rounded, thorough service. I’m damn good at my jobs and I get excellent feedback and appraisals for my customer service. My German bosses and colleagues both love and hate me for being so nice and typically British. I speak German, English and Russian on a daily basis and to be honest I need Arabic, French and Cuban Spanish too but I try to make do the best I can. I use Google Translate for the others and go the extra mile to be accommodating. I’m a natural communicator. Having visited other countries like Russia, Ukraine and Lebanon I am aware, patient and respectful of cultural differences in body language and mentality and I try to help where I can. I don’t judge or stereotype and I treat every customer with the same respect and friendly, polite service how I, myself, would want to be treated. You don’t always have to make eye contact with me (although I prefer this) but I expect you to stand and listen to what I have to say until the transaction is complete.

And I expect a God damn “thank you.”

Didn’t your parents teach you manners?

But so many customers (of all ages) in both jobs over the last few years and particularly over the holidays just seem to be in a hurry and don’t want to listen. Half way out the door I am still talking at them but they tuned out long ago. The classic, “yeah, yeah, yeah” response as they dive back into their phones. Some are ridiculously rude and impatient and cuss me. Others roll their eyes and make fun of me in their native tongues. I have had customers give me the finger and I’ve taken a lot of abuse because of language barriers, misunderstandings and impatience. Or simply because they didn’t get their way. Like spoiled brats who were not disciplined enough as children. People don’t listen yet when there is a problem they come back all irate. If they had bothered to listen they would know about the small print and all the other details I was explaining as they walked out the door. Those are important and I don’t say them for the hell of it. I’d rather not waste my breath thanks.

Not only do people not bother to listen but they just don’t have any respect anymore. Once last year, a group of Georgian men stared at me and then one boldly told me he wanted to fuck me on the counter because I looked cute. Wedding ring on the finger—that doesn’t matter. How does he have the nerve to say something like that to a complete stranger in a bank? Other foreign men have asked if I am married, if my wedding ring is fake and just a deterrent and if I want to marry them. Hello? Where are the boundaries these days? What about making polite conversation? Respect also falls short when most of my customers are texting on their phones, some take calls whilst I am in the middle of explaining something and others stand with their backs to me chatting with other people around them. And it’s not just customers but friends do this too!

Excuse me, but quite frankly I’d really like to slam your head into the counter or shove that phone where the sun doesn’t shine or ideally, just fuck off and make a cup of tea and come back when you’re ready to listen and show me some respect.”

This is something I really passionately hate.

And I don’t care if they are on social welfare and broke or are millionaires. You strip a man of his material possessions and wealth and they are the exact same underneath. What defines us is our characters and if you’re an arsehole, it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, you’re still an arsehole; your heart and soul are ugly.

Of course, I can’t say this. I have to repress all this anger and frustration. I have to say, “woosahhh” and breathe. I have to give excellent customer service, smile and be patient. I look at the ever-growing queue and the paperwork I have still yet to complete and I have about a million other jobs I need to get done before the end of my shift so I just sigh and wait patiently. Then I do the overtime and don’t get paid for it. They probably think I’m some stupid shop girl but they haven’t the foggiest about what I really do or what I endure. They don’t feel what I feel and are not me. They do not have my life nor work the jobs I do.
I feel sad.

I feel sad that we don’t know how to communicate and interact with people anymore. And it’s not just one particular culture or race. Brits do it too. Americans. Everyone.

The entire world, regardless of language, ethnicity and religion, is struggling with communication.

The more technology takes over our lives, the more we retreat behind screens and lock ourselves away. The more addicted we are to “checking in” and updating our statuses. Whether it be on smart phones, computers or tablets, we talk by typing abbreviations, sharing memes complete with spelling and grammar errors and share posts with incorrect information. We sum up our feelings in about 140 characters and plaster pictures of ourselves all over social media in case someone forgets what we look like. But that’s as deep as our conversation gets. Anything more and people get bored and it’s too much info. It’s overwhelming. We don’t want to read. We don’t want to get to know someone. We want to sum up ourselves in pictures and with as few words as possible because time is of the essence and we are all in a rush. All too busy to give a shit. Having a conversation or debate about something without getting angry is rare these days. And people don’t really want to debate. They want to force their opinions on others declaring it as “right” and then become furious when others do not agree.

Patience and understanding have long gone out the window. People don’t make time for one another so what chance does a sales assistant in a store or bank clerk have as a stranger? We are just minions without a name. We take the shit day in and day out and have to put up with it because customer is king. People don’t know how to read body language these days. People don’t know the difference between being friendly and flirting. People don’t know what boundaries are anymore. People no longer know how to communicate and interact in person. People don’t understand let alone experience what kindness and going the extra mile means. People don’t trust. People are not building lasting relationships nor getting to know the real person underneath the surface. People look skeptical and wary when I smile and remember their name, when I ask how their families are or if they have worn the jewellery they bought or ask how their holiday was when they bring back currency. They think I’m a stalker or weirdo. They don’t remember me. They don’t care. They don’t want to chat.

Just do my job quickly and shut up. Got it.

Local community and getting to know your customers and neighbours don’t exist anymore. Everyone is out for themselves. People screw others to get ahead and everyone is trying to be a somebody. Average isn’t good enough anymore and people feel far too important to give a shop assistant the time of day. Now this is seeping into friends’ and family members’ behaviour too. Sitting texting ignoring their flesh and blood. Sitting their kids in front of the TV whilst they Facetime their relatives. How are kids supposed to concentrate on both the TV and conversation? Are you watching the kids, the TV or engaging in conversation?

I was beginning to think it’s me. That I don’t fit in. That something is wrong with me. That I’m from another era or trapped in the wrong century. But it’s you. All of you. You don’t give people the time of day anymore. You don’t slow down and pay attention to what the person in front of you is saying. You don’t hear their words nor absorb them. You hear, “blah blah blah.” You are distracted with other things. Your priorities are elsewhere. You are rude and disrespectful and you aren’t listening.

If you can’t listen and interact with a sales assistant for 2 minutes, how do you expect to hold conversations with colleagues, with strangers in business meetings, with friends and family? How do you expect your kids to stop and listen to you when you reprimand them if you don’t teach them about active listening and respect for others? Do you treat your friends and family like you do a stranger? That stranger is someone’s friend, someone’s wife, someone’s relative. They could be a friend of your friend.

How you treat others is how you should be treated so remember that the next time you interact with someone. Just because you do not know them personally doesn’t mean you can be an arsehole to them. We should be a little more respectful and loving and we should remember that everyone is fighting some kind of battle you don’t know about. You have no idea what their life is like and you have not walked a day in their shoes. You have no idea how much a smile and a polite friendly hello can affect someone’s day. You have no idea how precious giving someone your focus, attention and time is, even if it’s only 2 minutes.

If you give out a smile, like a boomerang, it will come back to you.

I read that somewhere and it’s true. Smiling also tricks the brain into sending happy little endorphins around the body and you automatically feel better. We need to smile more because people are walking around with hate, scowls and bad tempers. So smile more and be aware of what is going on around you.

When you are with someone, unplug, leave the phones in your pocket, put them on silent, let the phone ring off, (unless someone is dying and uttering their last words to you on the phone, there is no reason to answer straight away and you can call them back later) teach your friends and family how to respect others by leading by example and shut the hell up when someone is speaking.

Use manners and be a decent human being. Stop being rude and arrogant.

You never know what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow that friend or colleague next to you might not be there and your last conversation would have been you staring into your phone scrolling through the newsfeeds and erm … what were they talking about? What were their last words? Were they struggling with something? Could you have possibly been a lifeline for them?

Just pay attention and listen before it’s too late. And just spread a little love and kindness because it will actually make YOU feel better and you will make a difference to the people you meet. And this will have a knock on effect.
I saw an American passport today at work and proudly emblazoned on it were the words, “We the people.” This makes me smile and fall in love every time I see it and it reinforced my belief that changing society has to come from the grass roots level and work upwards and it starts with one person, you. Then you becomes us which then becomes we. We the people. We need to make a change. We need to start communicating. We need to actively change our behaviour and listen.

We the people.

To my best friends who let me rant and waffle on, who let me offload all the crazy stuff in my head and who let me be me, who remember the small things and who actually give a shit and show it, thank you, thank you, thank you. Though you are not many, I love you and you’re awesome. You know who you are! Thank you for keeping me sane and congrats, you escaped the culling list! 😉

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love charlemagne

2 thoughts on “You‘re just not listening

  1. Thank you Manuel. I am just so frustrated with people lately that I think people need to hear this and be more aware of the effects they are having on others.

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