Are You Emotionally Attuned?

by Sean Grover

The Secret World of Emotional Attunement

When your radio’s tuned properly to your favorite station, the broadcast comes in loud and clear. Without any static or overlap of frequencies, you relax and enjoy the music or the program.

When your favorite love song is played on a well-tuned instrument, you’re delighted. You listen without distraction and lose yourself in the melody. But when the instrument is out of tune, even a master musician can’t make it sound right.

Emotional attunement operates the same way in relationships. When someone listens to you thoughtfully and responds truthfully, you’re drawn to that person. There’s no static in his or her communication; you feel understood and it’s fortifying.

Attunement is the same in any relationship, no matter what it is – friend, spouse, child or parent. When your relationship is attuned, you don’t have to fight to be heard. You clash less and enjoy each other more. Sharing your genuine thoughts, listening with greater empathy and consideration – these are the true tools for living in the moment and getting more out of your relationships.

The Tuned-Out Person

Have you ever worked for a boss who was constantly distracted, preoccupied, or never available? You get the feeling he’s not listening – and you’re right. You want to do your job well, but if he’s so out of tune with you, you’re never quite sure what he wants or if he’s pleased with your work. One moment, he’s supportive, the next he’s irritated. Sometimes he piles on demands; other times, he abandons you. He’s out of tune with you – and it’s maddening. Feeling recognized, understood, and valued by others are essential human needs.

Eventually, you might muster up the courage to find a more positive place to work? But, what if you couldn’t quit that job, because that distracted person is your parent, sibling, or spouse?

Without attunement, relationships are burdensome and unsatisfying. Without the tools to nurture attunement, you’re left with an emptiness that no amount of therapy, self-help seminars or life coaching will fill.

Practicing Attunement

Knowing when you’re in tune – and when you’re not – is fundamental to improving your relationships. Here are some basic suggestions to tune-up your way of being with others:

Stop Multitasking

It’s impossible to truly listen to someone when your attention is divided. Multitasking may feel good to you, but it’s an act of disrespect. No one likes to compete for attention. Multitask when you’re alone, but when communicating with others, for goodness sake, stop and listen.

Put Down the Screen

Like it or not, we’re all a part of “Generation Screen.”  How many times a day do we stop and stare at a glowing monitor? Cell phones, i-Pads, computers, the TV – you name it. While technology has greatly improved our ability to share information, it’s not a substitute for real human contact. Many folks use technology as a defense against intimacy or to avoid difficult feelings. A quick text message or e-mail while distracted is acceptable now and then, but for real satisfying emotional communication, you’re going to have to pull yourself away from the screen and look into another person’s eyes. If that’s too difficult, there is some unconscious anxiety, triggered by closeness that needs your attention.

Focus on Someone Else

Today’s world is built for distraction. Is it any wonder that ADD is among the top diagnoses? Ironically, the less quality time you spend with others, the more your insecurities and obsessions mushroom. Listening to someone else, being attuned to another’s feelings, ultimately strengthens and sooths you; too much self-focus increases narcissism and isolation, which is why some folks spend a lifetime in individual therapy and don’t seem to get better. Group therapy is the best place to practice attunement, and develop greater compassion for others and get it in return.

Stay Emotionally Engaged

A distracted “uh-huh” is the empty calories of communication. If you feel someone is not listening, confront them. If you catch yourself not listening, stop and ask questions. If you say, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” more than two or three times a week, you have a tendency toward disassociation; this emotional distance you put between you and another person may feel more comfortable, but ultimately makes you less interesting and attractive to others, and may lose you some friends.

Practice Mindfulness

When you lack attunement with others, you’re out of tune with yourself as well. Spending reflective time with your thoughts and feelings – really? Who does that? Visit any gym and you’ll find folks running on treadmills while watching television, listening to music, texting, flipping through magazines, proofreading manuscripts, making business calls, etc. Attunement begins with getting in touch with your internal world; a mindfulness practice helps you to balance and ground you in the moment. It also empowers you to take responsibility for your moods so you’re less likely to blame others or say destructive things to loved ones.

Toward a New Way of Being

Many years ago, an out-of-towner set up a sandwich board in a park near my office. As he relaxed in a beach chair, people approached and talk to him. They told him their troubles, their struggles, even their secrets.  People actually lined up to share their intimate struggles with a total stranger! What did his sign say?  “I will listen to you.”

Attunement is the beating heart of any relationship; an investment that will never let you down. Learning to focus, listen, and appreciate others, even when you disagree with them, is the gateway to a more fulfilling life and generous way of being. (Hello? Are you listening?)