Sunday, 22 June 2014

Are You Listening?

“Are you listening to me?” said Mrs PM the other day.

Although I was listening a little, she did not have my undivided attention. I was watching football on the TV and she was prompted to ask because I made a minor faux pas; I nodded in agreement when she was expecting the answer “No!”

I mastered the art of switching off during a conversation when I was a child. I come from a family containing three extremely talkative women. My mother has the ability to, as the saying goes, talk the hind legs off a donkey and my two sisters are similar.

When I was a kid, trying to concentrate on the TV, homework, a book or anything else, my mother had moments when she was oblivious to the fact that I didn’t want to talk or be interrupted. I was a polite child and didn’t want to incur her wrath by telling her to shut up. I managed to train myself to enter the zone, a haven from outside influence where I can concentrate at the exclusion of any external stimulus I choose to ignore.

My mum’s voice was such a stimulus and, believe me, that took a lot of doing over the years. A lot of the time she would talk about everyday nonsense, banal chatter about friends that did not interest me sufficiently to engage in conversation. I mastered the art of occasionally feigning interest by punctuating her one way chatter with the odd “Really?”, “I didn’t know that!” and “Oh yes.”.

I knew my mum well enough to know that most of the time it would work – and it did. When she wanted to tell me something worthwhile I would of course give her my undivided attention.

It’s the same with my sisters – though in their case I would tell them “I’m too busy – tell me later.”

Unfortunately, Mrs PM knows how to catch me out.  She knows me too well and peppering a conversation with “Really?”, “I didn’t know that!” and “Oh yes!” just does not work.

So during a World Cup football match, Mrs PM was telling me about her friend’s woes when I said the words “Oh yes!”.

“Did you hear what I said?” she said.

“Oh yes,” I said again, having no clue what she had said, too intent on seeing a goal attempt by Brazil against Mexico.

She punched me on the arm and said “Are you listening to me?”.

Now she had my attention.

“Of course I am,” I said looking into her eyes.

“What did I just say, then?” she asked, her face starting to show a mixture of annoyance and impatience.

“What did I just say, then?” I quipped with a smile. That was a mistake.

“I meant before that,” she snarled.

“When?” I said.

“What did I say about Susan?” she asked again.

“Erm!” I said pathetically.

I had no idea.

I was caught out because my ability to switch off from the conversation had let me down.

What I should have done was asked her to talk to me at the half time interval rather than during the game. That too might have caused an issue but at least it would have been better than being caught in the zone.

The zone is a place that I retreat to on a fairly regular basis. It is a place where I can disable external interfaces and concentrate on whatever I need to. An example of being in the zone is when I go for a solo walk at lunchtime.

I leave work with my headphones in place so that I can walk the streets for half an hour with a soundtrack of my favourite songs, switching off from work related nightmares, contemplate life and the universe, or simply drift off into a voyage around my own imagination.

On one such occasion I was marching down the street when a friend of Mrs PM spotted me from a distance. She didn’t know where I worked so was unsure whether it was me or not – until I walked right past her on the other side of the road.

I was in the zone and simply did not see her. She called out to me but my music prevented me from hearing her.

I saw her a few days later and she mentioned this; I was surprised and slightly ashamed. I was very apologetic.

Friends of mine, male friends that is, do make the same mistake. One of my work colleagues had a similar experience but his other half caught him out in a much better way.

He was watching TV and his missus, standing in the doorway, said:

“What do you think of this dress? Should I wear it?”

“Yes,” he replied, still watching the TV.

“What colour is it?” she said.

“Erm – Erm,” he replied sheepishly.

He was so deep into the zone that he didn’t even realise that she had left the room and had not paid any attention whatsoever to the dress that she had showed him when she was in the room.

One thing does puzzle me. I wonder whether the ability to switch off and enter the zone is purely a male ability or whether women do the same.

If Mrs PM is not interested in what I am saying, she is forthright enough to tell me. She does not need to enter the zone.

Perhaps my problem is that I didn’t really want to upset my mum by telling her that I would rather watch television than listen to her talking about her friends.

Perhaps I should tell Mrs PM that I don’t want to know about Susan’s current problems because Belgium are playing Russia in the World Cup.

I’ll let you know in a future post whether I am successful or not – and I will also include a photo of my black eye if it all goes horribly wrong.

Let me know, if you are a female reader, whether you enter the zone and switch off; I am genuinely interested.

And I won’t say “Really?” – honestly.


H2B said...

Dear Mr PM,
The thought of you with a black eye made me giggled. Yes, my hubby developed husband's deafness. It was quite annoying. So, I would have to make him repeat what I said for important instructions. During TV sports, if I ever tried to talk to him, I would be talking to the hand, literally. I put an end to that pen day, by grabbing his hand and gave it a good lick. Now I would just stand in front of the TV if it is something I could not wait till half-time.

River said...

The Zone? I've been there most of my life, since about grade three I think. I tell people I'm hard of hearing, and I am, but if I want to hear them I usually will. The thing is, I don't usually want to. I don't use the Zone to block out external noise for extra concentration, I use it to hide away.
Telling Mrs PM that you'd rather watch Belgium playing Russia is a good idea, just remember to also mention that you'd be happy to listen to her talk about Susan once the game is over. Then of course you DO have to listen.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi H2B,

Really? ;-)

"Husband deafness" is a good term - the truth is that really it is "selective listening" in that I can pick up on the odd phrase and completely ignore the nonsense around it.

Mrs PM has been known to stand in front of the TV. She has yet to lick my hand though.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

I have used the zone to hide away too.

mmm - Will I be happy to hear about Susan? Maybe - but it depends. Sometimes it's better to stay in the zone and hope she doesn't catch me out.




H2B said...

Sorry Mr PM, I forgot to answer your question whether I would go into a zone.

Honestly, I don't! I am one of the 2% of human population that can truly multitask. Even my colleagues are amazed by the fact that I can have a conversation with them while emailing. Even as a kid, I will watch TV and study for exam at the same time.

I think the trick is my mum is a total non-nagger. She will say everything only once, and not at the top of her voice. So, we kids developed a habit of being switched on all the time, so as not to miss out on things.
Example, mum would say! "Who wants ice cream or cake ?" If you show up later than the rest in the kitchen, there might be none left. This is the same with with other meals,we always had cousins staying with us, and mum did not make sure that everyone has a fair share, it was always first come first serve . If you are late, you would have to make do with brocoli and white rice as all the yummy chicken would be gone.

I think this training works well as all we kids are pretty successful.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi H2B,

I can multitask to an extent - but nowhere near as well as most women I know.