passive-agressive listening


i am at an impasse in a close personal relationship caused by a total break-down in communication. open, honest and non-coercive communication is the cornerstone of the functional relationships in my life, and to go unheard or disregarded is something i find very challenging. in a non-essential relationship, i would react to a tendency to disregard by severing or modifying my connection to the other – but in this case, while i could do that, it doesn’t seem appropriate.

what is particularly frustrating about this situation is the person not hearing me is someone who considers themself an expert at “active listening”, and leads workshops on non-violent communications in a federal prison. she recognizes coercive communications patterns in other people in a particular setting, but apparently has little capacity for self-reflection on these issues.

so all of this has made me work on my own “active listening” in the most non-patronizing way i can (the active listening model, if not used fluidly, makes it sound like you are talking to a kindergartner – i hate it when people use it on me in an unnatural way as it in itself becomes an abusive communications tool). currently, her and i are having an ongoing debate about whether i should volunteer at the prison with her regularly or not. this discussion has been going on for months, and i have a number of personal reasons why i’m not interested in participating in her program at the moment.

when we talk, i try to stay off the topic entirely, but as i’ve been re-developing a friendship from high school with someone who is in the prison, i want to change my status there from volunteer to visitor which means i couldn’t come into the institution as a volunteer anymore. i haven’t brought that up recently because there are a number of other issues impinging her life and putting her in a heightened state of anxiety which makes it impossible for her to hear anything. of course, that doesn’t stop her from bringing it up as anxiety brings out the function in people which seeks to control any aspect of life in a situation that otherwise seems overwhelming.

last night, in a phone conversation (i called to see how she is doing), this topic came up despite my best efforts. lately i have been trying to have insight into her motivations and needs so as to address this ongoing problem without having to confront it head on. i have further been determined not to end every phone conversation in a confrontation, and so prepared myself for the interaction before placing the call.

during the discussion i reframed what i was saying no less than six times in the most chill way i could – trying to approach it from perspective of supporting her work, of supporting my own personal work, of any number of approaches i could take – before she cut the subject off abruptly and just ended the call. this is not the first time she has done this, and her tendency towards cutting off conversations completely and hanging up the phone has been increasing over the past few months.

i am completely at a loss here, as i feel like every time i try to take a different path to communicating better with her, i walk into the same brick wall. fortunately i am learning to cut my emotional responses to this behaviour, but ultimately it means over the years (and particularly over the last year) our relationship has become increasingly truncated as i become less and less able to open up in conversation. what a yuck situation! i think eventually i will need to confront this head on, but for now she is not able to discuss much except her world and the current crises in it, so the status quo continues in the meantime.

any ideas? i’m stuck.

barriers to active listening:
comparing, mind reading, rehearsing, filtering, judging, dreaming, identifying, advising, sparring, being right, derailing, placating

%d bloggers like this: