The most common complaint…REALLY???

the most common complaint

by Kenneth Justice

~”Kenneth, my boyfriend simply won’t listen to me, he just sits there zoned out in front of the television every night” ….that is what a young woman shared with me recently as we sat at the coffee shop.

Far and away the most common complaint I hear from people of all ages is that they feel like nobody is listening to them;

—) Teenagers who feel like their parents only preach at them and never listen

—) Employees who feel that their bosses don’t really listen to them

—) Men and women who feel that their significant others don’t listen to them

—) Teachers who feel that their students aren’t really listening to them

—) Students who feel that their teachers aren’t listening to them

Whether it was when I worked at the jail, the rehab clinic, or I’m sitting around at a café….everywhere I go people complain that the significant people in their lives are simply not listening to them. “Well he says he’s listening to me, but when he doesn’t take his eyes off of the f**king television I’d say he’s not really giving me much of his attention!” the young woman at the café said.

Strangely enough, when I was working at the rehab clinic I never went a week without hearing from clients who would complain to me about the other counselors; they felt the counselors weren’t really listening to them. Many of the clients felt that the counselors would spend more time ‘telling them what to do’ or ‘making them feel bad for ending up in a rehab clinic’…than truly listening to the client.

Awhile back I talked with a young man who was engaged to be married and was struggling with a sex addiction. The man wasn’t merely satisfied having sex with his finance; but was actively trying to sleep with a different woman every single night. The young man went to his minister to seek out help and explained to him the problem; the minister told him flatly; “sex outside of marriage is a sin, you need to stop engaging in it altogether” and left it at that. The young man felt dejected leaving the minister because he felt that he was still all on his own in trying to overcome his behavior; he told me that he felt the Minister didn’t really listen to his problems because “Once I told him that I’ve been having sex with different women the Pastor seemed to shut down and got all angry with me. He didn’t really listen to me much and just kept telling me that what I was doing was wrong….as if I didn’t know that already

Here in Western Culture one of the most dire examples of a lack of listening is when it comes to parents and their children. When I was studying psychology in college we had an entire course that was focused on ‘teenage rebellion’. Yet as I studied through that course I couldn’t help but feel that much of the problem with teenage rebellion is connected to the parents; how many parents simply expect their young adult children to obey their rules unquestionably?

—) How many parents truly take the time to interact with their young adult children and listen to them?

—) How many parents spend more time listening to their young adult children then they do talking at them?

I’ve always been uncomfortable referring to that particular age group as ‘teenagers’ because of the negative connotations that so many people associate with the term. ‘Young adult’ seems to be more of an appropriate term in that it reminds us of what they truly are; young adults. Perhaps this is merely a semantical word game I’m playing, but I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve heard utter the awful phrase, “I’ve got a teenager who thinks they know-it-all” in the presence of their ‘teenager’. It seems as though; that is such a disparaging thing to say right in front of the face of your young adult children…

A few years ago, before I ever began blogging myself, I began commenting on some well-known national blogs (authors who I still read daily). It used to frustrate me to no end that they would ignore so many of the comments on their blogs; I would become mad and think these bloggers ‘aren’t really listening to anyone!”

Obviously there are no ‘rules’ when it comes to blogging but when I made the decision to create my own website I told myself that I would try damn hard to really listen to my readers………because I feel that in listening it demonstrates to others that we ourselves are willing to learn and grow…..that we aren’t bullheaded; that we don’t know-it-all.

Isn’t that the issue between so many young adult children and their parents; when parents don’t demonstrate the ability to listen they are communicating to their children that ‘I’m a know-it-all and don’t need to listen to you’. Do the parents ‘know’ more than the children? Sure….but so what? Isn’t the quality of a great leader someone who is a great listener?

—) I think back to some of my favorite managers and bosses throughout my life and the quality that I see in all of them is the ability to listen.

—) My favorite professors in college were the ones who actually listened to the students and used the back-and-forth communication to better connect and teach

A leader can be a great orator…but if they aren’t a good listener than their followers can end up suffering……

And if you’ve been listening to me you know that its right about now that I usually start craving a cup of coffee,


Categories: relationships

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56 replies

  1. Yes, indeed, Kenneth. Thanks for listening.

  2. We teach young adults how to communicate well when we are using the back and forth to connect. I personally do not feel communication occurs any other way. Yesterday, I was reminding a man that has come to me for advise. “You need to run these impulsive decisions you make and then immediately regret by someone first”. He took a job and then quit it the next day. He walked away from his last job without quitting. When I asked him when he is going to find that adviser, he told me I was being critical. I told him to be ready to hear something different than his own “schemes”. His bipolar mind is his only feedback. He can’t hear others. This is an extreme example and clinical. Most people are just stubborn and self righteous.

  3. I think in one of my posts I mentioned the fact that Teenagers or Young adults need to grow to quickly. The lack of maybe said communication can be a cause of such thing. The back and forth conversation is often missing and a sound board hardly found by these young adults where they can go for guidance.
    Those who truly listen have the best stories to tell.

  4. We can listen but nor really hearing. It’s too complicated or very simply as one word goes in one ear and out through another one. It’s all related with liking, fact I like your topics and the style of your writing so I keep reading your blog.
    Fact, if a student like the class/subject and the teacher ( voice, style, shapes etc) he/she is listening and focusing. If the child likes what he hears, that’s fine, he will listen and obey. It’s very important how we put the words in a sentence ” don’t do that because…you are too young” – wrong sentence.
    The guy with the TV…doesn’t like his wife or she has nothing to say which can make him to pay attention to her or another sad truth is he has enough of her… We can’t ignore something if we LIKE.

  5. Women complain about their counterpart ..when replies are not as per the question 😉
    Preacher preaches but not find a way to help the man get through..perhaps he didn’t have a clue 😉
    We got two ears and one listen more and speak less..So we must listen , attentively and never hear out..listen to silence..its deafening.

  6. Playing the devil’s advocate, one should also consider what it is important to listen and what is not. I think most people pay attention to the important things (at least for them). If you lend ear to stupidity, in a sense, you are encouraging it. BTW I have several children … 🙂
    Nice post!

  7. My youngest child (11) has a best friend whose only brother died aged 6 a few weeks ago. My little one took her role as friend very seriously. When getting ready to spend her first afternoon with her buddy since the funeral she was determined to do things right. Would she speak of him? Would she ask how her friend was? Should she comment on the funeral? I gave her a few tips and then I said “You know sweetheart, this is why we have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we talk”. She looked at me so seriously and said, “Oh mum I really should have a notebook to take all this down”. My point is… some never learn to listen, others learn early.

  8. Oh you are so right – listening is VERY important. However having seen two children through adolescence I just want to say that I would have loved to have listened to their views on just about anything… their lives outside the home, their take on society, drugs, rock ‘n roll, whatever. The problem was they didn’t talk! Neanderthal grunts seemed to be the major method of communication – a friend would call them on the phone and they would exchange grunts, I hadn’t a clue what they were on about. Now in their 30s they never STOP talking to me, and as I live in China this often means two or three skype calls per day.
    Its good to talk, but even better to listen!

    • Heschelian,

      I think a lot of parents know what your taking about in reference to “exchanging grunts” lol especially parents of boys….great comments 🙂

    • My 11-yr old daughter is starting to respond in this Neanderthalic grunting that you describe, but, not always. I know that she’ll open up at other times and share her thoughts, even asking mine– and that I’d better be paying attention!

  9. We need to teach people to listen, how true.

  10. Great post. I often feel that no one listens to me – and I know that stems from my childhood – and I’m “old” LOL Thank you for reading my posts.

  11. I wasn’t a very hard kid to deal with. I was more interested in books and video games than anything else with my greatest fault being a messy room. Still, I remember one of the only times my father yelled at me. I don’t even know what the problem was. All I remember is the emotion. I remember feeling like he didn’t understand and because of that, his anger was misguided. I spoke up but didn’t get the chance to finish my sentence before he yelled at me for talking back. It felt like a slap to the face and I shut down. From that moment on, I only told my parents what they wanted to hear about my life unless it was a situation in which I needed their help. That has lasted into my adult life. I always wish I could discuss certain aspects of my life and let my parents see the whole person I am. Unfortunately, I only let them see and hear about the parts they approve of. Some of those things, like the fact I don’t follow their specific religion, will come out eventually, but, so long as they don’t need to know, they won’t.

    I think there is a balance for parents to listen to their children, recognize their opinions and still be the authoritative parent they need to be. Things get fishy as children become young adults. If your child is drunk at a party and uncomfortable being there any longer, where should they turn? Ideally, they will call their parents, admit their mistake and ask for help. If the child is too afraid their parents won’t listen and will only yell, that might not happen. The end result can be very bad.

  12. I agree: young adults (well, children generally) are pretty much treated like ill-trained dogs in America. “Sit, stay…and stfu.” is the most common message. I hate to see teens treated in this manner, and while my kids were teens we had arguments from time to time; but they couldn’t say I didn’t listen or didn’t engage honestly with them.

  13. Don’t hate the players, hate the game. We all been there and done it. (Teenagers) I think I’ve been a good listener to my parents, I had too much respect and love towards them, even though many times didn’t agree.
    Listen, listen, listen up…
    I like my coffee cup 😃

    • I guess a lot of people don’t respect their parents and it’s good that you do…’s something that doesn’t occur as much here in the states…..

      Good comments:-)

  14. I agree with you. When you find someone who listens to you, you feel respected, and important. Very important quality to have. Thank you for listening.:)

  15. “I’ve always been uncomfortable referring to that particular age group as ‘teenagers’ because of the negative connotations that so many people associate with the term. ‘Young adult’ seems to be more of an appropriate term in that it reminds us of what they truly are; young adults.”

    It is semantics on the surface, as you suggested; I reserve “young adult” for people aged 18-25. And I don’t think I bestow “young adult” any extra inherent respect, because I’m wont to say that age group is just as capable of saying thoughtless and arrogant things as “know-it-all” teenagers are. I usually follow it up by saying something like “I said dumb stuff like that when I was their age [18-25], too.”

    Of course, it depends on the individual, and their life experience. I’ll say some filters through the lens of what we usually refer to as “settling down”– a steady residence, a life work, starting a family, for example. Or a bit of travel outside home and immediate community, to learn perspectives other than one’s own.

    • From a sociological perspective ‘teenage rebellion’ is almost an exclusively Western Culture phenomenon…and even more specifically its pretty much only in Western Culture where we associate particular ‘attitudes’ with teenagers…….other cultures have a much more clear, concise, and natural break from childhood to adulthood….its us Westerner’s that create so much problems for teens

    • I’m not so sure about “clear and concise”. I’ve read, and been told that while “teenager” is a modern concept of the West, our society still had considerations for that age group, even if it didn’t have a name yet. Yes, I’m aware in colonial America, 13 year old young men were expected to hold their liquor. And I think it was here that we discussed that in the Victorian period, everyone dressed children largely as they would adults.

      But while we in the West have defined “teenage” and even “young adulthood” as a transitional phrase between childhood and adulthood, I think it is disingenuous to suggest that other cultures see it as a clean point, no matter how pronounced their rites of passage may still be compared to ours. No, I think that simplifies their outlook to modernity much too severely.

      I also think that it is short-sighted to pronounce the West as the sole bearer of cultural norms harmful to people of teenage years. We’ve already said that “rugged” individualism in the West has its problems, but that does not immediately make collectivism in the East comparatively better, per se. It is simply a different perspective. Remember all the discussion about “Tiger mother parenting” in the news?

      Yin and yang, Kenneth. This was my thought as I was discussing this with a typographer friend of mine in New Zealand, Jack Yan. He is ethnically Chinese, but since his family is originally from Hong Kong, he claims a British identity as well as a Kiwi one. Talking with him leads me to believe there is room for East and West outlooks, but it’s important to avoid extremes.

    • Well,

      sociologists are in general consensus that what we know as ‘teenage years’ has been entirely a Western phenomenon….so I can’t offer you much more than that at the moment mainly because I’m pressed for time.

      One of these days I will create a better search engine for all my college papers and maybe I can send you one of my essays I wrote on the myth of teenage rebellion.

      I could forward you a couple academic links on the topic but you might find this article more interesting…its written by someone who grew up in a fundamentalist home (similar to my experience) who initially assumed that what we experience here in the West is par-for-the-course everywhere…but she came to find out there is more to the story.

      I appreciate your comments….I definitely wouldn’t attribute all psycho-social problems to the simple issue of individualism and western culture but I think it is really telling that other cultures have far less rates of psycho-social problems related to loneliness, depression, etc….

      sure; communal cultures have their own fair share of problems….but if we could someone find a balance between two we might be on to something 🙂

    • Yeah, the balance is really what my concern is.

    • Read that article, along with some of her blog, just so you know.

      Lots of stuff that I was actually aware of, but, plenty of stuff I wasn’t. I’m still reluctant to blame Western society too much. I mean, I’m familiar with this argument. I truly am.

      Understand, Kenneth. I’ve always been about exploring every little nitpicky point and tangent around a topic. Those that know me well will quickly tell you that. You, too, will see in time 😉

  16. An old Taoist suggestion; leading from behind the people. Thanks for the post.

  17. I wonder if the problem with parents is that they’ve forgotten that they were young adults once upon a time.

    They also forget that times change. The Rules change. Socially acceptable behaviour changes. Fashion changes.

    But core values don’t change. Compassion and loving kindness are still desirable. True friendship and unconditional love are still desirable.

    Physical and verbal abuse sets an example of abuse. Dictatorial behaviour by parents sets an example that this kind of behaviour is acceptable in society. When I worked in a rather elite private school office, I remember a boy noisily walking up to the receptionist and in a loud rude voice demanding some small change to use on the public phones near the school entrance. Sitting at my desk observing the boy’s behaviour, I immediately had a picture of the boys’s Father speaking to his son (& employees) in that rude dictatorial manner.

    I think it’s the parents job to give them shelter, understanding and set a good example. It’s the parents job to show respect. Respect for everyone. Respect for their partner, their children and the friends of both. Respect your child’s opinion and they will respect you. You don’t have to agree with each other, but you should listen and consider that person’s point of view. And take the time to explain why that point of view has meaning in the current situation. You can’t expect a child to accept your point of view (or rule) if you don’t tell them why that rule (or view) has value in the current conversation or social climate.

    Respect and understand that their children are going to make mistakes, but let them know the door is always open. The door is open to dialogue and listening. Too many parents speak at their children, not with their children.

    Conversation is a two way thing.

    We need to allow our children (and young adults) to be just that – children. They need to learn, love, laugh…..and cry. But the most important thing is that the door should always be open and conversation a two way communication of talking, listening, respect and acceptance (of the things that matter). Children are going to make mistakes, but show me a Parent who hasn’t made a mistake in their youth. Show me a Parent who hasn’t made a mistake in their adult life.

    The important thing is a two way conversation, with each giving the other their time and respect.

    • ” Dictatorial behaviour by parents sets an example that this kind of behaviour is acceptable in society”

      100% agree!

      ” I remember a boy noisily walking up to the receptionist and in a loud rude voice demanding some small change to use on the public phones near the school entrance. Sitting at my desk observing the boy’s behaviour, I immediately had a picture of the boys’s Father speaking to his son (& employees) in that rude dictatorial manner

      I absolutely love this example because I’ve felt a similar way about similar things I’ve witnessed….excellent point.

  18. Thank you. You can never hear these simple truths too often. Even if one knows how to listen (and not everyone does) it is difficult to always be available to listen. In the short run not really listening is so much easier.

  19. “…because I feel that in listening it demonstrates to others that we ourselves are willing to learn and grow…..that we aren’t bullheaded; that we don’t know-it-all.”

    That´s the reason I read you 😉 – because you listen and see…

    It´s the power of listening which makes the story alive…

  20. Some parents want kids that don’t actually require parenting.
    Sorry, they’re on backorder.
    The only kind in stock require love, nurturing, reasonable parameters for behavior, lots of love, attention, instruction, modeling, lots more love, and consistency. Did I mention they also need love?
    Children learn what they live to quote an old poem. If a child grows up being listened to and drawn into conversation by people who actually give a rip what they think, then they’ll be able as young adults to both listen to others and share what’s on their mind.
    I acknowledge this all sounds easy written like this, but I know from years of experience it’s not even close to easy.

  21. I like hanging out with people much smarter than myself. I was at a party of such people (I was probably the least academically and intellectually advanced person there) when one of guests confessed to me her difficulty in showing compassion for people less intelligent than her. She wanted to know how I deal with it. In hindsight, she could very well have been asking how to deal with someone like me but luckily I was not smart enough to catch that in the moment.

    I told her that I believe everyone has something to offer. Even the dumbest person on the planet probably knows something that I don’t. If we really want to be smart, don’t we want to know what that is? Besides, I don’t care how smart someone is, I don’t care how much someone knows; there is still way more that they don’t know.

    BTW, as much as I like to read what you have to say I also try to read as many of the comments as I can. Your readers have a lot to offer and I appreciate that.

    • “BTW, as much as I like to read what you have to say I also try to read as many of the comments as I can. Your readers have a lot to offer and I appreciate that.”

      most of the time it seems like my readers have deeper thoughts and more interesting things to say than I do 🙂

  22. I think, judging by all the comments, you have really hit a nerve here. To listen and to try to understand takes a little effort. Surely we can all try a bit harder to listen to our partners and friends. Great blog, again, Kenneth.


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