Is Anyone Listening?

August 31, 2008 at 4:12 pm 2 comments

Is Anyone Listening? – Lauren Kennedy –

We take communication for granted. We all know how to talk. It has become as automatic as breathing for many of us. So we seldom consider the possible impact of our words or how frequently they are misinterpreted.

And although talking comes easily for most, the second aspect of communication is conveniently overlooked. Very few people are effective listeners, and typically aren’t enthusiastic about learning this skill.

There are many forms of communication; the printed word, photographs, non verbal communication, all forms of art, and the various forms of audio and video media. Additionally, there are different types of communication. There’s the kind that tries to sell you something, the kind that tries to convince you or something, outright propaganda, communication for entertainment, communication to shock, and more rarely communication that objectively relays information.

Effective communication is the primary ingredient that determines the quality, duration, understanding and cooperation that we experience in our relationships.

Communication skills are most crucial when we are faced with some sort of conflict, misunderstanding, discomfort or frustration with another person or situation. Communication can mean the difference between ongoing conflict and satisfactory resolutions. Unfortunately, when communication skills are inferior, or when patience is in short supply, these situations erupt into violence, physical or emotional.

I have included an effective method for clearing the lines of communication in difficult situations. I have had excellence results when I apply all the steps. This method will identify and address misunderstandings, encourage others to take you seriously, affirm your right and responsibility to state your needs and feelings and result in a resolution to the situation. It is especially useful when: you have a problem with someone’s behavior, your boundaries have been violated or you want to make a request concerning your needs or feelings.

But remember, you must follow all the steps for this process to be effective.

What’s the Problem?
You must have a clear understanding of the problem before you can communicate effectively. So write the problem down as clearly and honestly as possible. No one else need see this statement, so you can express yourself freely.

Include the person involved (who), time and setting (when), what bothers you about the situation, your feelings about the situation, how you would normally tend to deal with it, what fears you have about the possible consequences if you were to be assertive, and finally, your behavioral goal.

For example:
When I ask my children (who) to do their chores (when) and they ignore my requests or do a sloppy job, and tell me they did their best and other kids don’t have chores.(what) I feel frustrated and confused(feelings).  I try to figure a way to get them to comply without yelling or disciplining them. (how) Normally, I would just explain, for the hundredth time why they need to comply with my wishes hoping, and that this time (insanity), they will say, “Gee Mom, no problem, I’d hadn’t thought of it that way before.” I’m afraid I may be expecting too much of them or that they will feel inadequate if I criticize their efforts. (fear) I would like to trust my decisions and be consistent with consequences in spite of my emotional reactions to their incredible skill at pushing my buttons. (goal)

Designate a time: Find a mutually convenient time to discuss the problem with the other person involved. Timing is extremely important. If someone is preoccupied, agitated, or in a hurry, your communication efforts can end in disaster. This step, of course, would be omitted in situations where immediate action is required.

Describe the Problem: Clearly state the reason, the situation or behavior that is a problem for you. Don’t make the mistake of expecting other people to be mind readers. Most people are wrapped up in their own thoughts and problems, and will have very little idea about what’s going on with you unless you state your case explicitly. Being a friend or a lover does not make one a mind reader. Clearly outline your point of view, even if what you’re describing seems obvious to you. This will allow the other person to get a better idea of your position. Describe the problem as objectively as you can without using language that blames or judges.

“I’m expecting an important phone call. It’s important that the caller can get through, but that may not be possible when the phone is constantly tied up.
You’ve been on the phone for hours, talking about frivolous things when I have important business to attend.

Express your feelings: By telling other people about your feelings, you let them know how and why their behavior affects you. Even if the person you’re addressing completely disagrees with your position, they can not dispute your feelings. And typically, most people are more responsive to your feelings than to your opinion.
Remember that your feelings and reactions are your responsibility. Do not imply that the other person is the cause. It is your perceptions, beliefs, assumption and experiences that contribute to your emotional state. You do want to identify the specific action that triggered your feelings, but be certain to take responsibility for them. The best way to ensure this is by always remembering to begin statements about your feelings with I rather that you. I-statements acknowledge your responsibility for your feelings, while you-statements generally accuse or judge others, putting them on the defensive and obstructing communication.

Say, “I feel angry when it seems like you are not listening to me.”
“You make me angry because you never listen to me.”

Make your request: This is the key step to assertive and honest communication. You simply ask for what you want (or don’t want) in a direct, straightforward manner.

  • keep your request simple
  • ask for one thing at a time
  • be specific
  • Use I-statements
  • Object to behaviors and not personalities: Let them know you’re having a problem with something they are doing (or not doing), not with who they are as a person. Do not make a judgment about their behavior. Simply state how that behavior affects you.

It’s preferable to say: “I fee frustrated when you don’t call to let me know you’re going to be late,” rather than “I think you’re an inconsiderate knuckle head for not calling me to let me know you’ll be late.”

  • Make request, not demands or commands

In some situations and with certain people, offering positive incentives for their compliance with your request can be effective and promote a positive attitude. But this must be a honest exchange, in the spirit of cooperation, rather than a form of manipulation.

“If you pay for the gas, you can use the car to take your friends to the movies.”
“If you stop seeing that girl we don’t like, we’ll buy you a car.”

In other cases you can state the natural consequences (usually negative) of a failure to cooperate. Consequences should be appropriate and relevant to the situation and not arbitrarily imposed. The latter will likely be perceived as a threat and may increase the other person’s resistance. It is vital that you be prepared to follow through with the consequences if the person ignores your request. If you can not do it, don’t say it.

“If we can’t leave on time, then I’ll have to leave without you.”
“If you keep talking to me like this, I’m going to leave. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Not this:
If we can’t leave on time, I’ll hide the keys to your car so you will be late for work.

To recap: Clarify the problem for yourself. Agree on a convenient time to have a talk. Then clearly state the problem, how it affects you, how you feel, what you would like to occur, and the action you will take if your request is ignored.

In case you have any doubt about the effectiveness of this process, let me share a personal example with you.

When I started dating my husband, he had a habit of being late. He had been single most of his adult life and felt he had the right to come and go as he pleased. One evening we had planned to go to a social gathering at 7PM. He got off work at 4:30PM. It was after seven and I hadn’t heard a thing. This was an emotional trigger for me since my ex-husband had a habit of not coming home at all, due to extra curricular activities.

About 7:30 he called and told me to meet him at his mother’s. I did not bring the situation up while we were there visiting. However, on our way home, while I was debating what I was going to say, he asked me what was wrong. What I was thinking was “That was an inconsiderate and self centered thing to do.” But what I said was, “It may be due to by emotional baggage with my ex-husband, but when you are late I feel very upset. I would appreciate a phone call if you are going to be later than 6PM. Otherwise, I may make other plans and not be at home when you do show up.” He grudgingly said he guessed he could do that.

A few months later, he confirmed that if I had said to him what I had been thinking, he would have had a very different response. In which case, we probably wouldn’t be married with children today.

Never underestimate the power and/or repercussion of your words.

What you say and how you say it can change lives, yours and others.

Entry filed under: Piority, Motive and Intention. Tags: , , , , , .

The Elusive Essential Balancing Act

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Paula  |  September 15, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Communication is very important in any aspect of our lives. Communication skills means having good listening skills, conversation skills and self-confidence. Good and effective communication can help us build a strong relationship with other people and it can even help us succeed in our goals or dreams in life.

  • 2. laurenpkennedy  |  September 26, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Hi Paula,

    You mentioned listening skills. You are so right! That is a huge part of effective communication, one that is often left on the back burner.

    I have found that when I am truly listening to someone, I am better able to response in a effective and meaningful manner.

    Everyone wants to be heard and so often we are only half listening.



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