The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.
William Hazlitt, Selected Essays, 1778-1830
Do you long for more connection with others? Do you wish someone close to you would understand you? Do you wish you could get your kids to listen to you?
Perhaps I can shed some light on communicating so that others hear you. And I’ll share several insights I’ve learned from my years coaching, facilitating and mediating.
“What do I have to do to get some respect around here?”
“Why can’t I get my kids to listen to me?”
“I talk and I talk but it makes no difference.”
These are things I’ve heard many times from clients. These are common expressions of frustration, dissatisfaction, loneliness and even fear.
I believe, for many reasons, we’ve lost the ability to enjoy a connection through our words. We’ve reduced many of our interactions to a series of power struggles.
It’s not our fault. We’re just trying to get our needs met. But so is the other person on the other side of the word exchange.
And we’ve lost or never developed the art of sharing ideas, thoughts, and play through the use of words. It may be getting worse, as our attention span shrinks. We are unwilling to take the time to nurture and interaction through our conversations.
The cure, however, is still the same as it’s always been. Here are the most important acts of love, contribution, and constructive communication I know.
Check Your Intention
We can treat communication so casually. But I will tell you, that it is when I’m being lazy in my communications that I get myself in trouble. Then feelings get hurt, misunderstandings explode and mishap follows. Yes, I know how to “clean up my mess” by revisiting, making amends and renegotiating. But darn it; every time, I wish I’d just been more deliberate to begin with.
It’s OK to slow down. In fact, slowing down, taking your time, thinking things through before giving voice to those thoughts can be useful.
For awhile, I used to carry a pad (I still do this when it really counts) and write my intention at the top before having any conversation. That was a real eye opener! (I’d love to hear what you learn, if you dare to try this for yourself)
(Always) Listen First
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said.
No one will listen to what you want to tell them until you learn how to listen first. It just won’t happen. The words may be heard, but they won’t land. No one cares, until they feel how much you care for them. And they’ll only feel cared about when they feel you’ve listened to (and understood) them.
I recommend practicing your curiosity. When you leave the past where it belongs, in the past, and listen with interest, the entire conversation takes on a new life.
Check to be sure you understand. (Gently) ask questions to be sure you were understood. I’ve heard tell we only hear 10% of what is said. Some claim it’s even less than that. If that is true, you can see how a conversation could quickly degrade to gobbly gook.
Stay Focused on the Solution or Topic
One of the number one complaints I hear from clients, couples or parents is that someone agrees and then doesn’t keep the agreement.
When this happens, I know that the child or person in question never internally agreed. They may have said the word “yes”, but actions show that they did not mean “yes” (or they would have followed through).
This is why it’s so very important to include others in any solution. It can take a bit of finesse to be sure others feel empowered and safe enough to say “no” until they are able to say a “yes” that they’ll mean. And of course, we’ve already covered the solution. It’s all about the “listen”.
Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use.
That’s why it’s important to listen, not only to the other person, but to ourselves as well and not be led astray by our own thoughts.
I, myself, used to let myself get sidetracked constantly in a conversation. It became a pattern and no progress or decision was ever finalized. Don’t make my mistake. Stay awake to your intention. Doing so was what finally cured me.
Listening is Work But Worth It
Genuine listening takes energy. Which may be another reason we haven’t seen it very often. By the end of the day, when most conversations are begun, everyone involved is already tired. Take a break, enjoy some activity and come together when both parties are capable of focusing.
Remember that not everyone communicates, learns or processes like you do. If fact, especially within families, we’re usually as far apart as possible in our styles.
So be patient, be kind. And practice…a lot. You’ll get better. You’ll feel the value of the work of listening. Just as with anything learned and mastered, it can bring you and others great joy!
Conversation as Pure Enjoyment
Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
This is Client Appreciation Month. And just like last year, I’m offering you a chance to enjoy tea (or coffee) with me; live (Portland) or virtually. Simple visit my business page and comment under the posting with your favorite flavor of beverage. On August 31st at 5 pm I’ll be running the entries through a random number generator to deliver the winner.
And it is my intention that we have a conversation that is just as delicious and refreshing as the beverage itself!