Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"I hear what you're saying . . . "

No ya' don't.

Am I the only one who thinks that there is nothing more irksome than to have someone utter the oily little phrase “I hear what you’re saying” in the midst of an argument, disagreement, or discussion? To me, it’s about as useful as advising an un-calm person to “Calm down.” (Has that ever worked, do you think?)

"I hear what you’re saying.” Of course you hear what I’m saying. Unless you’re deaf or temporarily distracted by an explosion in the background, you hear what I’m saying because I said something and your ears received the vibrations. By the way, this vapid little phrase is usually accompanied by a knowing, earnest look, which is also irritating and deserving of a slap across the smug little face spouting it, but that’s a subject for another time.

The key here is the use of the word "hear" rather than "listen." 'Listen" implies more than the act of receiving sound through one’s ears. It implies concentration, an honest attempt at understanding, and other ethereal nuances – sympathy, empathy, caring, wisdom, love. No consideration is required in hearing. Listening is all about consideration.

Hearing is, well, just hearing. Listening takes effort and attention and compassion. If you were really listening instead of merely hearing, you’d be as sad/crazy/angry,/depressed/disappointed/surprised/whatever as the person trying to communicate with you. You’d get it. You might not agree with it. You might have another side to the story. But you’d get it because you were listening, not just receiving vibrations to your eardrum, stirrup and anvil-thingys.

This smarmy phrase is touted by anger management people and psychologists as a bland response panacea that is supposed to reassure the person you’re “hearing.” So spouses, friends, clergy, teachers are encouraged to let little I-hear-what-you’re-sayings punctuate stressful conversations. Doesn’t work for me. As soon as someone pulls out the old IHWYS, it confirms to me that they do not have the desire or capacity to listen to me. They’re probably thinking about what they’ll have for dinner tonight or whether they remembered to send that email or wondering when in the hell this conversation will end. "I hear what you’re saying."

Remember this. If you “hear” what I’m saying, I’ll probably “hear” what you’re saying, too. Except that you don’t really want me to hear what you’re saying. You want me to listen to what you’re saying.

Are you being heard or listened to?


Scroblene said...


I love the Welsh, and they have a knack of saying 'Now listen Here'; and, because their vocal inflection is singing and ringing, the 'here' sounds like 'hear'!

So you get two chances there, and both of them can work wonders!

Wasn't there a big saying in the deep south 'Hear me talking to ya'!

I loved that one!

MaryB said...

See? That certainly works for me. No need to spout constant profanities! Oh, and the Southern "Hear me talking to ya" is usually accompanied by a boxing of the ears. ;-)

Elsie said...

Mary, I noticed in your post on profanity you said, "I'm tired of hearing it." Glad you weren't really listening ;) Listening to that garbage for too long can make you crazy.

And "I'm with you" (another expression that can drive a person crazy) on "I hear what you're saying." When the psycho-mumbo-jumbo becomes mainstream, does it mean we've become a therapy-driven society? It's all too much for me.

MaryB said...

Elsie, I stopped listening to the expletive-talk long ago. Even so, I'm still tired of even "hearing" the stuff!"

Yeah, as you can tell, any sort of psycho-babble drives me crazy (ha). Just get to the point - lay it on the line. I can take it! :-O

Winston said...

You feel better now? While I really mean it here, one sure way to assure a ranter will continue to rant is to break in when they pause for breath and say, in a condescending tone, "You feel better now?"

PT said...



[Eyes Glaze Over]

I find that with that response people tend to stop moaning to me.

Of course, if someone were to say "I hear what you're saying" to me, I'd probably just start swearing and asking "do you hear that? Huh? Do you? Do you? Then try hearing this!" as I smack my hands over their ears.

Though that's probably why I lost my job as an anger management counsellor...

MaryB said...

Oh, yeah, guys. I'll glaze over if someone's going on a perpetual whine-session. What I'm talking about here is the detached, "professional" attitude when there's a real problem.

Otherwise, yadda-yadda-yadda! :-)