Effective communication Archives

seek_to_understand

Recently my friend has parked a car on a narrow parking slot in a city in a way that would block a free passing of another car. It was the only possible place, though.

Since it was a night time and meant for a 5-10 min stay only, the chances of a car coming or leaving that parking place were slim. Nevertheless, as life goes on, it happened. My friend had left the car for 10 minutes.

And …

Surprise, surprise….

When we arrived at the car, we were greeted from a distance by a furious driver whom we indeed blocked (so he could not get in to the parking place). He was clearly agitated and out of balance. He was shouting at us about our stupidity and irresponsibility. His language was strong and it was the fact. His emotional state did not match the seriousness of “our offense”. Clearly, he had to have a bad day to react so strongly to this inconvenience.

In the worst case scenario the guy could have obviously looked for another parking place, leaving us a note of how unthoughtful we were. But he didn’t. He allowed the steam to go up and cherished his state of agitation. In such moments it is hard to stay calm. The atmosphere gets immediately stirred up and the volcano in a complainer is about to erupt. My friend immediately raised the tone of voice in order to respond to the “same wavelength”.

In a split of a second I saw what was about to happen – an emotional battle of shouts and perhaps cursing – and I reacted fast.

What did I do?

I simply admitted all the facts.

Yes, the car was left in an inconvenient place, we blocked him, it was for a short stay but we did not leave any notice saying that we would be back at say 10:30pm nor left any mobile number to call in need. It was irresponsible from our side. Then I apologized for the trouble we caused him. I did it in a calm voice and said we were really sorry for the trouble. And I meant that.

After a moment of silence, an amazing thing happened.

The guy got quiet and and after a silent moment he said to me with a big relief “I really thank you for understanding me”.

Then we both departed in peace. No quarrels. No shouting. No conflict.

Here comes a little pearl of wisdom. People who complain want to be understood.

Seek to understand. Apply it to your life. Your life will become peaceful.

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Photo credit Fougerouse Arnaud, available under Creative Commons on Flickr.

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Other inspirational or educational posts:

perfect_feedback

The need of feedback

We all have needs. Basic needs and more complex ones.

One of such basic needs, which is often unrecognized by others, is the need of receiving feedback. We want to know how we are doing, how we are perceived, how we perform, where we are against norms or expectations, what are our chances of promotion, etc…

We basically want to know our reference point.

Without feedback we feel completely lost. There is simply no way to measure progress as our internal compass cannot be calibrated. We miss the ground under the feet and we feel as if suspended in space.

And this lack of feedback produces a very disturbing feeling of dissatisfaction and not-belonging, which is often unrecognized by others. If this continues, a deep frustration will likely develop over time. Unfortunately, this is a common situation in many corporations and work places.

Think about it.

  • How happy are you at your work place?
  • How clear are your tasks and responsibilities?
  • How do you communicate with your manager? And with your boss?
  • Do you receive feedback?
  • How encouraging is the feedback you receive?
  • How much is your work appreciated by others?
  • How much and how often do you express your appreciation for the work done well?
  • How often do you thank others for help?

Traditional feedback

Straightforward criticism is perhaps the most widely used approach. Another very common technique for providing feedback is what my friend calls a hot-dog approach. This means, Roll – Sausage – Roll, translating into the positive message – negative comment – positive message. You start by focusing on what is good (Roll), then you discuss the real issue (Sausage) and you end up with a positive note (Roll).

While this strategy is much better than a plain negative feedback, it is not enough.

Why?

Because although the focus is on the positive side, many people still have the tendency to hear the negative comment only. And this is not surprising.

We are often self critical, dependent on the opinions of others and trained to constantly subscribe to our negative self-talk. As a result, a single negative comment, even a mild one, pointing to an improvement, may overshadow the multiple positive ones.

How to give a perfect feedback

Feedback is usually given externally. There is however a very different, wonderful technique I learned years ago. I practice it regularly and I experience great results every time I use it.

The main difference is that the feedback-giver becomes more passive than in other approaches. He/she takes the role of a facilitator. The person who receives feedback becomes active and, yes, it makes all the difference.

The feedback-giver focusses first on the positive aspects only (it is the zero step). There is nothing more. Positive aspects. Then, he/she supports the other person in the process of discovering own feedback. The facilitator asks feedback-receiver for answering the following questions:

  1. What is exactly the task / step / journey goal to be reviewed? (Get crystal clear here!)
  2. What is an ideal successful performance (achievement) in this case? Please describe it in detail.
  3. What did go well?
  4. What could have worked better?
  5. What have your learnt from a) this process and b) the above observations?
  6. What will you do differently next time? What is the single step you can take to improve the most?

The beauty of the process above is that the feedback-receiver is encouraged to produce this feedback for himself. If the questions are asked in rapport, the person will easily understand what to look at, what has worked well and how to improve.

The focus is on the positive aspects with the call for action. It works wonders.

If you lack feedback in your life or when you need a review of progress of any project, use the questions above. You can become your own facilitator. Learn how to give feedback to yourself and others.

Give it a go!

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Photo courtesy Robert Hodgin, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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active_listening3

When people talk, listen completely

This is the third post on active listening. Please read first the previous active listening posts, part 1 and part 2.

There are two planes of active listening: setting-up the stage and caring for the message.

The first plane was discussed here. In the second plane of active listening you are a facilitator of understanding for yourself and for the other person. In such a process it is essential to keep an eye contact and engage in listening. This means you avoid interruptions when possible. You are only gently letting know the other you are there and listening. Simply nod your head or say “Yes”, “I understand”,”I see”, etc.

Caring for the message

The basic steps of the caring for the message are:

  1. Receive the message: repeat content.
  2. Understand the message: ask questions to clarify understanding.
  3. Absorb the message: summarize content, paraphrase and reflect feelings.
  4. Reply: summarize content, reflect feelings and add your own reply.

Repeat content

There are two reasons for repeating the content. First, when you speak you engage your conscious mind and it helps you to understand it better. Secondly, you allow the other person hear what (s)he is saying which helps her/him to understand it better.

Of course, you repeat the important content, not everything being said. Use exactly the same words as the other person does. The key words and phrases have very specific meaning to the other person. Your meaning of the key phrases used can be a little bit different or even totally different. Avoid the temptation of using synonyms or beatifying the language. Change of the words implies a shift in the meaning and feelings.

Understand the message

First, encourage the speaker to continue and help him/her think through. E.g. “Tell me more about…” or “Explain this perspective better”. More importantly, use open questions which start with what, how, which, who, and where.

  • “What do you mean by saying …?”
  • “What leads you to that conclusion?
  • “How is that affecting you?”
  • “What do you want to happen?”
  • “What are the results you want?”
  • “What is the worst things that could happen?”
  • “What stops you from…”
  • “What is the first step in this direction?”
  • “How can I help you to achieve that?”

Be very careful with asking WHY.

The why-questions are big spoilers. They are often subtly perceived as a form of accusation or telling off, where you call the other to explain himself. This is especially true when you put the emphasis is on why. E.g. Imagine what type of feelings evoke in you when you hear: “So, why do you do that?” orWhy did you decide to go in this direction?” You can ask the same/similar question in a different way.

Use WHAT instead. Say “What encourages you to do that?” or “What was your motivation to go in this direction?” You notice the power of curiosity behind the what-questions, don’t you? Choose to ask what-questions. They are great.

Absorb the message and reply

Don’t judge and don’t evaluate while you are hearing the message. This is really hard, I know. Our mind often jumps to conclusions and formulates opinions in a split of a second. It takes conscious effort and practice just to listen and stay loving and non-judgmental. Practice. There is a mental shift and a deeper connection for you to experience when you learn to stay non-judgmental in a conversation. And it’s worth it because the magic happens then.

Reflection demonstrates your understanding of the person’s message. Paraphrase what the person has communicated you both verbally and non-verbally. Use your body language to support your reflection.

  • “So, what you are saying is…”
  • “It seems that you see yourself trapped.”
  • “It sounds as if you …”
  • “It feels as if you …”
  • “You seem to be feeling happy / anxious / inspired / frustrated …”

There is also a unique power of metaphors and stories as they naturally appeal to our subconscious mind. Metaphors are conceptual in nature and are among our principal vehicles for understanding.

How can you use them in active listening?

Simply allow it to happen. Just allow images, feelings or sounds to come to you naturally and reflect them back. You respond in metaphors more than you think. They can be pretty short. E.g. you can reflect the metaphor that argument is war: “It feels he attacked all weak points of your argument. His criticism was right on target, wasn’t it?” Or you may e.g. say “It feels as if you are trapped in a room. You try to open the door hard but there is an opposite force that pushes it back. The harder you try the bigger the resistance.” … “Does it make any sense to you?” Note that you always bring it back to the other person to let him/her redefine the description or feelings.

Ending

If you want to end your conversation on the powerful note, simply end with calling for action.

  • “What is the first step for you to take now?” …… “When are you going to do that?”
  • “What does it need to happen for you to solve this issue” … “Which is the day to you do that?”

Active listening – a summary

In active listening you listen to the other person with the intention to understand. You forget your own thoughts, problems and agendas and you focus 100% on the other person.

In order to give the full attention you need to set up your stage well: set the intention, recognize and acknowledge distractions, build rapport and listen.

To really understand the message, you need to ask facilitative, usually open questions and reflect your understanding back. You repeat the process until you get in sync with feelings in order to understand the other person. Then you end up with helping the person to define basic action steps if a solution to a problem has to be found.

And in doing so, you have mastered the basics of successful coaching.

Embrace active listening.

There is NO better day than starting today. It will change your life.

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Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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active_listening

If there is one thing to make you an effective communicator, it is active listening

This is a sequel to this post on active listening.

In active listening, the magic happens because you shift your attention from yourself to the other person.

You listen with the intention to understand. It is not an intellectual understanding only, but a deep understanding of the person as a whole. You simply make an effort to think and feel like the other person, at least with respect to the issues presented or discussed. You accept the other person by who (s)he is. By doing so, you create the space in which the person can relax and become at integrity with oneself.

There is no judgement, no criticism and no advice.

Setting-up the stage

There are two planes of operation in active listening: setting-up the stage and caring for the message. In this post we focus on how to improve the first plane.  The basic steps of setting-up the stage are:

  1. Acknowledge distractions
  2. Set-up the intention
  3. Keep eye contact
  4. Build rapport
  5. Raise curiosity and maintain interest
  6. Give full attention

Distractions

Before we can actually practice active listening, first we need to become aware of numerous distractions that are on the way. You may need to overcome some in order to create conditions that support you in active listening. Example distractions include:

  • Environment: too noisy, too dark/too bright, uncomfortable chairs, disturbing textures, …
  • Mood or health: bad mood, sleepy, hungry, emotionally aroused, feeling pain, …
  • Poor eye contact: the other person moves eyes away
  • Internal self-talk: a stream of thoughts
  • Unresistable urge to tell own message
  • The message: too boring, too long, too far fetching, …
  • Delivery of the message: accent, use of language, way of explaining,
  • Defense mechanism for e.g. criticism
  • etc

Just by becoming aware what is in our environment and how we feel, we can recognize the distractions and acknowledge them. It is not necessary that all the distractions are solved, although it helps enormously, of course.You may just simply notice things along the line “I’m a bit angry after this email. I’ll be back to it at the end of the day. … Oops, I’m hungry… These curtains are really ugly…. I hear voices on the street. ….I’ll buy something to eat and move to another table… Hmmm, I am a bit cold.  I will take a tea….” Note that this process can be very fast, in a matter of seconds.

This paying attention to distractions is important because we bring them from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind. In doing so, your conscious mind recognizes the distractions and can now focus more freely on listening without perturbations of hidden processes.

Intention

Setting up the intention for active listening is to align your subconscious and conscious mind to support each other. You simply decide to be present in the moment, every single moment. A 15-20 second (or minutes before if possible) of quieting and calming the mind is an essential practice here.

Eye contact

Eye contact is important as it practically reflects whether you are interested in the conversation or not.

Rapport

Perhaps, rapport is the mystical word here. Rapport basically means a harmonious relation, when two or more people are on the same wavelength or ‘in sync’. Some people create rapport at ease, others need more practice. The goal of rapport is to build trust. Hence it is crucial.

The good news is that you can create rapport consciously. The two main techniques are mirroring and finding similarities.

Mirroring. In the first approach you mirror the person’s outside. That is, you match breathing pattern, voice (speed and pitch) and body language (sitting, posture, gestures, face expressions). You do it in a gentle way to reflect the general pattern about the person, not every detail. For instance you may choose to speak faster or modulate the tone of your voice if the person speaks fast and with a high pitch. You may choose to lean to one side and cross the legs if this is what the person does.

All the changes you apply are in a small degree from your natural being, not the exact neither extreme copy of the other person. The reason is that you want it be as natural as possible as you need to maintain it. You can only do it consciously if this is a small step for you. Gentleness is the key here.

Why is it important to mirror the body language? The key here is that our physiology,our body language supports us in creating specific feelings. When you mirror the physiology of the other person, you can perceive some of the feelings and better understand what is going on for her or him. In addition, the person is subconsciously more able to relate to you. See the exercise below.

Finding similarities. In the second approach to building rapport, first you spend the time to find either common interests or common experiences. The common interests can be things such as golf, fashion, computer games, quilting, cooking, dogs, etc. The common experiences include specific hardships or fun experiences, living in a foreign country, studying art, learning to ride a horse, etc. The key is to find something that evokes strong emotions. They help us connect and facilitate the creation of the platform of understanding.

If you really want to learn more, observe people who are powerfully engaged in a conversation. Observe rapport in practice and take the learning points on stage.

Curiosity and interest

The next step is to arise your own curiosity. Just forget everything you knowand see the person or hear the issues as if for the first time. You are on a discovery journey. If you are curious to learn about the other person, rapport comes more naturally.

Full attention

Make a decision to give your attention fully. In doing so, your internal dialog should be killed. If this is not the case, there is a simple trick that can help you. Please keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth. If you maintain this set-up of your tongue, you will notice that internal dialog disappears. If there is however a moment you catch yourself busy with your internal dialog, acknowledge that and return to listening. Please say to the other “I’m sorry, I’ve lost my concentration. Can you repeat what you’ve just said?” The key is to be curious and interested. If you do that, your focus will naturally follow.

Finally, truly engage in listening. Start simple and make one change at a time. You will experience the magic. No doubt.

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Exercise

If you don’t believe that your body posture and gestures induce feelings just try to get into this position:  stand up, feet close to each other, head down, look down, shoulders down and towards chest, slouch, arms down and palms pressing against each other.

What are the feelings that accompany this posture? Keep this posture and generate the feeling of true happiness. How easy is it?

***

Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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First seek to understand than to be understood

Have you ever been in a situation in which everybody was talking at the same time and hardly anybody listened?

Chances are that you experienced this more than once.

I did. Multiple times.

In the past, I used to join the game. I was actively competing for a time slot in which I could speak loud and clear so that my massage would be heard. With little effect and a huge frustration, I must say. Hardly ever was I able to bring my message through. Mainly because I was not quick enough to react neither loud enough when I had my chance. I remember feeling small and stupid, surrounded by all smart loudly talking people.

Until I decided to change.

Be a listener

Nowadays, I do not bother to have my say. I simply enjoy being both a curious observer and a curious listener.

And you know, what?

I have fun. Obviously, I still welcome the moment when the bombarding of voices is over. But …. I do enjoy this chaotic competition of simultaneous multiple conversations. And I actually learn new things about myself and others. Most interestingly, many people seem to have great conversations with me. They talk. I listen. I ask questions. They answer. They love it.

Have you ever experienced talking to somebody who listened to you with understanding and undivided attention?

How did it make you feel? Accepted? Appreciated? Special?

Yes, indeed. Such a listening is a great skill to master. It is the best way to honor the other person and pay respect. It is the best way to take care. It is the best way to learn from others. It is the best way to look for win-win solutions. It is the best way to have a conversation, indeed.

How are you listening?

When you engage in conversations,

  • Are you present in the moment?
  • Do you keep an eye contact?
  • Do you focus on the other person and not on your thoughts?
  • How much attention do you pay to listening?
  • How much are you interested in what the other is saying?
  • Do you listen with the intent to understand?
  • Do you focus on the other person and not on your thoughts?

or

  • Do you interrupt before a sentence is finished?
  • Do you know what is going to be said just after a few words?
  • Do you have an answer before the question is asked?
  • Do you listen at a surface, impatient to jump in and tell your story?
  • Do you want to show off with your experience to tell about?
  • Do you want to talk, talk, talk…?

Listening stages

There are a number of listening stages. Check which stage you are usually at:

  1. Not listening. No attention.
  2. Automatic response. You are deeply in your thoughts. Your conscious mind only recognizes some keywords.
  3. Listening to own internal dialog. You have a very general idea of what is being said. You are able to repeat the last few words. Most of the story is gone.
  4. Surface listening. You listen at the surface and somewhat selectively. You are able to answer questions about certain things.
  5. Listening with understanding. You listen with full attention. You can answer simple questions and some complex questions.
  6. Active listening. You listen with full attention. You understand what is being said and the situation. You have own thoughts about the issue. You can answer questions and provide understanding.

Your goal is to be an active listener.

If you are not there yet, no problem. We are all learning and you can learn it too. You can be the change you would like to experience.

The key understanding is that in active listening the focus is on the other person, not you. Active listening is an expression of love. Hence there is no judgement.

You are there to show interest.
You are there to ask questions.
You are there to reflect, paraphrase and clarify.
You are there to understand.
You are there to act as a mirror and show the other person who (s)he is.

When you actively listen you allow the other person simply to be in a moment, both respected and appreciated. You create a space in which the other can safely identify with his or her Self: inner images and feelings, ideas, needs, challenges and ambitions.

Start where you are.

Set the intention to listen more actively. Engage. And you will see the results.

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The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.

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