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Making Communication Even Better!

Posted: June 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Being Able to Still Like Each Other Even When We Disagree

It can be so frustrating to try to use the core skills of communication  and still feel like the conversation is stuck.  “But I’m using eye contact, open posture, and reflections!”  It’s because they are not enough.  Communication can be a maddening, complicated mess.  Usually  both parties want to connect but walk away from the interaction feeling, at minimum, disappointed.   Luckily, the following provide ideas to go that next step.

First, let’s address a common mindset.  Most people go into a conversation wanting to be heard and believing their side is right.  If we try to convince the other that we are “correct”, the other person knows it and will respond in kind.  This is not a conversation; it is a debate.  We spend our time arguing, defending, and focusing only on  perceptions that support our side.   Each person becomes an opponent, not someone we care about.

The antidote can be summed up in one word: humility.  Most situations are not about what is right or wrong but about perspectives.  Each of us have a set of experiences that shed light on the topic.  If we genuinely want to connect, we must be open.  Listen to what is important to the other person and elements that may have been overlooked or even unknown.  As we demonstrate receptivity, we invite others to do the same.  By the end, we can walk away with more information and greater awareness of the beautiful ways we can be unique.  Here are some questions to enhance humility?

  • What do I hope to gain by asserting my view?
  • How might my view be limited? Even wrong?
  • Do these differences matter in the big picture?
  • Am I tuning in to how the other person is responding to me or am I focused on my point?
  • Am I treating the other person in the way I want to be treated?

Next, we have to be careful that common bad habits do not sabotage our intent.  For example, we have all had moments when we engage in monologues where we talk at rather than with our audience.  Then there are tangents, which can be so disconnected, we can even forget our own point! Interrupting happens so often that it almost seems normal.

The great news is that these behaviors are not set in stone but it can be difficult because they often happen when we are on autopilot.  This means the first step must be awareness.  If you had an “ah ha” moment when you read the types mentioned, you’re already on the right track. It is then important to make a commitment to change.  It may help to express the goal and practice with loved ones.  They can kindly point out when the habit is active before we can catch it ourselves.  Meanwhile, these are the new behaviors we are building towards:   work on being a listener.  Provide space for the other to share their point.  Make statements that ensure you fully understand his/her position and then add your two cents.  Stay on the main point.  Consider what elements enhance the story and what details muddy the waters.  Share in short segments.  After one or two paragraphs, check in.  Look to see if the other person is giving input or sharing empathic stories.  Be wary when the other’s body language suggests disinterest such as looking around, flat eyes, or monotone responses.  Finally, create a reasonable pace by taking time to pause and breathe.

Finally, if we truly want to connect on a personal level, the main focus must be emotion.  Emotions are the most vital information.  We can learn about personal context like history, culture, environment, and modeling that demonstrates the foundations behind a person’s views.  There are also values, meanings, needs, and vulnerabilities that have a chance to surface.  People tend to share more when they are not having to defend a position and genuinely feel like the other person cares.

“But I don’t agree with her!”  Luckily, you don’t have to.  It’s possible to be empathetic and validating and still have a different stance.  Here are some examples to show you what I mean:  “You seem stuck.”  “How frustrating!”  “It’s daunting to go through so much change.”  “You sound hopeful.”   On the surface, this may sound easy, but it is actually trickier than it looks because it is largely foreign in our culture.  We are usually mired in the details, problem solving, or responding with personal stories that take the focus off the speaker.  I’m not saying that there is not room for these responses, just make sure emotions are the top priority.

I have seen these strategies at work and can attest to their impact.  Crossed arms change to hugs and from yelling to talking.   With a little patience and a lot of practice, we can converse without needing to retreat to our corners and can become a little wiser and a little kinder in the process.

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Side by Side Counseling.

Tania Henderson
M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C.