“When people talk listen completely. Most people never listen.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
In my experience as a psychologist, what people want more than anything is to be heard and understood. It’s not just about hearing the words but understanding the meaning and feeling behind them.
One of the biggest impediments to good communication is not listening effectively. Just because you have heard the words another has spoken does not mean you understand their meaning, or their feelings. We can repeat their words, but that does not show them that we understand what is behind them.
Often in difficult discussions with partners, teens or in the workplace, each has their point of view and tries to impress that upon the other. While the other is speaking, the listener may be preparing their response and not listening.
If someone has told you that you just do not understand, then you are missing something. First, we must be clear about our intent: are we wanting to argue, to prove our point, or to truly understand where the
other is coming from? If you truly want to understand, you can say, “Tell me what I am not understanding?”
There is a very effective strategy you can begin to implement immediately that may surprise you in how well it works. Listen to what the person is telling you and get as much information about their position as you can. Ask questions if you need clarification. For a moment, imagine you are the other person.
Then the two of you can switch positions and express what you think the other has been trying to say. See if you can convincingly present their point of view, or their side of the argument.
Doing this is valuable for two reasons: first, it requires listening well enough to hear all of the information; second, it requires that you look at the situation from the perspective of the other.
If two people are having a disagreement, or are trying to communicate about something important, a profound deepening of understanding can occur if they take a few moments and each role-plays the position of the other.
This does not mean simply parroting what the other has said. It means truly stepping into the role of the other, and sincerely expressing their viewpoint. Ask if you have it right and allow the other to continue explaining until he or she agrees that you have expressed it accurately.
This alone may not solve the problem, but at least each knows the other’s point of view. There is mutual understanding. Next comes the part where you work as a team to decide how to deal with the differences.
With couples, it is very important to resolve important issues, and if there is a stalemate it is wise to have a counselling session or two.
With children, often the parent overrules, in the best interest of the child.
Give the child comfort and compassion as it helps if they know you understand how they feel.
A similar situation exists in the workplace. Sometimes the boss or manager makes a unilateral decision. It is then for you to decide if you can live with that, or if it is time to move on.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist.