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How My Husband’s Videogames Made Me a Better Listener

Image via Wavebreakmedia/

I came to terms with the fact my husband likes to play Xbox.  I resisted this for a long time and finally accepted it’s something he enjoys. He often tells me about the games he plays - and I listen. Well, actually, I really don’t listen.

We were having dinner at our favorite restaurant last week and my husband was talking to me about a game he'd played earlier, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. His enthusiasm was palpable and I was, to be honest, totally uninterested in what he was saying. I sat there, sipping my wine and pretending to listen. You know, the occasional head nod and “um-hum” that we seem to think passes as listening. As I’m pretending to listen the voices in my head are saying: “you are a hypocrite…you preach that if you are really listening to another and being curious there isn’t any topic you won’t find interesting.” 

"Honey," I said. "I want to apologize to you--I’m not really listening to you and I’m sorry." 

"It’s no big deal," he replied. "It’s not like it’s an important topic, it’s just about a game.” 

"That may very well be," I said back,  "And, I love you and this is something you enjoy and I don't want to disregard something that brings you enjoyment.” 

In that moment, I committed myself to listening with intention to what he had to say and that is when things got really fascinating.

I wasn’t curious about the mechanics of the game he was playing. What I was interested in knowing was what it was about the game that he enjoyed so much. Now I was really listening. My husband started to talk about the game in a totally animated and different way that caused me to lean in and be even more curious. Eventually our server (also male) joined the conversation, and then a second server. I watched as these three men talked about what they enjoyed so much about Xbox. Their vigorous exchange included:

  • I can be me - there is no judgment of who I really am
  • Online it doesn’t matter who I am – I have absolute anonymity
  • It’s competitive and I get to track my statistics and of course I want to win but I’m not exposed if I loose
  • It’s like a release; I get to step back from reality.  It’s a fictitious drama.  It’s straightforward and I know no matter what happens I’m not really going to die
  • You may not know the people you are playing with but it’s still a team and you have a common mission

Listening to these comments helped me understand that perhaps at a deeper level, Xbox represents the opportunity for people (yes, I would say men more so than women) to act out innate needs all in a space of absolute and total anonymity. I also realized that when I committed myself to listening to something that I had previously found uninteresting, all the sudden it became really “juicy.”

Authentic listening is generated from curiosity. Pretending to listen – especially to someone for whom we care – is a disservice.  When we make listening a gift of our attention, and not a tactic, our conversations become exponentially richer.

The tips below can help you check for when you are actually listening or really being listened to:

You Know You Are Being Listened To When:

  • You are able to finish your sentences without being interrupted.
  • You feel a sense of calm because the other is not competing with you for airtime.
  • All the sudden you say to the other:  “oh, enough about me…how about you?”
  • You have this profound sense of aliveness and being cared for. Listening is a gift and fundamentally we cannot listen to another if we don’t care about what they have to say. 
  • You know when you are really being listened to because all the sudden a sense of guilt overcomes you; guilt for allowing someone else to make you the focus of his or her attention. 

You Know You Are Listening When:

  • You don’t get bored.
  • No matter what the person is saying, you find it interesting; you are curious about what they are saying.
  • You are not forming your next “me too-ism” or thinking about what you are going to say next.
  • You become somewhat unaware of time because you are focused on the listening.
  • The person to whom you are listening stops being the label you created them to be and suddenly becomes more human to you.

What tips do you use to catch yourself when you are not listening?

(Image via Wavebreakmedia/

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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