Short answer: Yup, it’s totally my fault.
Here’s what I used to do. As soon as a thought occurred to me that I wanted to share with my husband, Steve, whether it was an item that needed to be added to the grocery list, a request for help with a chore, or just a fun story, I’d launch right into it, no matter what he was doing. Steve would inevitably forget to add the item to the grocery list, fail to jump to my aid with the chore, and act like he’d never heard my fun story.
When I complained that he never listened to me, Steve’s response was always “ I don’t remember you asking me to do that” or “I didn’t hear you” or “Are you sure you told me about that?”
It felt like he was ignoring me on purpose. Was I invisible? What was wrong with him?!
For a while I thought he was suffering from severe hearing loss. Nope. My sister (an audiologist) tested his hearing – it was fine.*
This went on for years.
Then one day, the answer came to me.
Chef, May I?
My brother is a chef. He works in a busy restaurant. He explained that during dinner service (the most chaotic and busy time), a kitchen has a militaristic communication system. Before any of his staff speak to him, they first say “Chef, may I?”. Then they wait. When my brother is able to turn his attention to that person, he’ll invite them to speak by saying “Go ahead.” Then, and only then, will the staff member speak to him.
This seemed overly formal for a gruff kitchen environment. But my brother very seriously explained that it’s the only way to ensure that dinner service runs smoothly. “There’s so much going on and so much I need to keep track of. There’s no way it would work if the kitchen staff were all shouting things at me from all over the kitchen without first having my full attention.”
I was asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “Steve, why don’t you ever listen to me?!” I should have been asking “Steve, may I?”.
Steve, May I?
You can probably guess what happened next. The next time I wanted to interrupt Steve’s TV watching or email-writing, in order to talk to him, I walked in and asked “Steve, can I talk to you for a second?”. Then I waited. Only after he turned his attention towards me and invited me to continue by saying “Sure”, did I speak.
When this protocol was followed, Steve had no trouble remembering what I said. Ever.
So yup, it was totally my fault.
Don’t Be Rude. Knock Before You Come In.
When you think about it, it makes sense. You wouldn’t barge into someone’s office without first knocking. Your interactions with your partner are no different. If your spouse is engaged in another activity, whether it’s work or leisure, the polite thing to do is “knock”. Then wait to be invited in. To do any differently is rude. This is especially important now that many of us are working from home.
Learn from my mistake. Don’t be rude, like I was being.
That is all.
One thing before you go…
Give it a try. Knock before you go in. Or ask, “Chef, May I?”. See how it works for you. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or on Twitter (@nellymosstag).
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*Allow me to shamelessly promote my sister’s hearing clinic: Toronto Family Hearing. Are you suffering from hearing loss? Get your husband or parents’ hearing checked at Toronto Family Hearing. Call to book an appointment today!
Good point Nelly! Looking back I think I do this naturally…. probably linked to some childhood learning from observing my mother regularly yelling at anyone in the family to get our attention.
I recently learned that I will more likely get permission to continue if I ask in a way that require a ‘no’ response. This helps them feel more control and less emotional.
Being asked to say yes too soon can make people defensive.
Food for thought.