Listen up!

and other ways to communicate effectively during those sticky situations

By Ashley Duchesneau

Contributing Writer

If you’ve ever backed down unassertively from someone who mistreated you or lashed out uncontrollably against someone who meant you no harm, you know: Talk isn’t cheap.

The price you pay for not saying what you mean or saying something you didn’t mean can be dear indeed: guilt, anger, loss of self-esteem. And that doesn’t include the hurt feelings and other emotional “claims” of the guy who falls casualty to your unruly tongue.

Photo by Anna Zetterberg

Experts see the results of inappropriately expressed emotions every day.

Some people are afraid to speak up for their needs at all. You can tell something is gnawing at them. They frequently complain of headaches, depression, boredom or anxiety.

The other type of person is the one who is too aggressive. She has the opposite problem. Her needs are expressed, but they come out as angry, accusatory, judgmental bursts.

People like this stop listening and you wind up with one-way communication, which is as good as no communication.

The courage and ability to translate feelings, thoughts and needs into language so others can know you, and you can know yourself, is a powerful, exciting way of communicating.

Unfortunately, clear and honest communication with others is unusual for most of us. Learning how to say what you really mean is for everyone.

Fortunately, the experts pretty much agree on how to go about improving your communication skills. Oddly, they begin with listening.

The biggest mistake you can make in trying to talk convincingly is to put your highest priority on expressing your ideas and feelings. What most people really want is to be listened to, respected and understood. The moment people see that they are being understood, they become more motivated to understand your point of view. That’s half the battle won, right there. Once you have correctly summarized the other person’s thinking, acknowledge the feelings he/she might have. Ask questions to be sure you haven’t misread the emotions.

Of course, your natural impulse all the while may very well be to lash out and try to prove how wrong your opponent is.

Resist. With all your might. Instead, find some grain of truth in what he or she is saying and agree with that. Yes, it’s difficult to do that, but it’s worthwhile, especially when you feel attacked.

That’s because when you agree with what the other person is saying, and feeling, you paradoxically take the wind out of his sails and you end up the winner. He’ll usually feel like a winner too and will then be much more open to your point of view.

Here is an example of how this works: On the playground were two kids, we’ll call them Joey and Will.  Joey was causing trouble, so Will’s mom went to Joey’s mom to complain.

Joey’s mom listened, even though it was unpleasant to hear. One week later, the same kids got together, and this time Will did something that upset Joey. Joey’s mom brought Joey over, first to apologize for the previous week, but also to explain that now Will was being disruptive.  However, Will’s mom did not listen; she blew up, saying, “I’m not going to deal with this type of back and forth and I don’t want to hear it!”

This happens in any situation, in a marriage, or at work or whatever, when one person refuses to listen, an argument breaks out. What do you do!

The object is to make your point without being accusatory, threatening or judgmental – without hurting the other person’s feeling or putting them down.

First of all, don’t overlook the other’s good points. They’re there. Nobody wants to hear continuously what’s wrong with them.

You can soften the blow even more by delivering your thoughts in the form of I-messages instead of you-messages.

Here is an example: A boss can say, “You never do this or that,” or “You always this and that.”  Instead, it’s better to say, “I’d really appreciate the next time this or that happens, that it be solved in this manner, rather than that manner.”

By switching from the accusatory “you” to the non-threatening “I,” you raise the chances that your employee, partner or friend will hear you without becoming defensive and combative. Once you turn off the other person, he or she will fail to hear what you’re saying – no matter how effectively you think you are coming across.

They say you will never understand until you have walked in another person’s moccasins, and that starts with listening.

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