Just Listen

The objective here is to connect with the other. It's important to check any tendency to "solve the problem." For this time, put your desire to help on hold for the duration of these practices. You want to connect - not fix. This may be harder than you think to do.

Equally important is to be non-judgmental. When sitting down with another, see this time together as an exercise that will eventually change the way you communicate on a regular basis. This is a time to simply reconnect with judgement temporarily suspended.

Empathy is stepping into the shoes of another and trying to sense what it's like to be them "as if" you were them. You can never 100% understand another, but you can get close through empathy.

Empathy is always going to be subjective, but with practice you can be less and less self focussed and more connected to the other.

Imagine you are stepping out of the circle and into the triangle of the other person - as if you're stepping into their shoes. 

If the situation is charged, you can always return to your shoes, like stepping back into your circle. This way, you can get some rest and space from what the other person is feeling. 

Here are four basic skills that build on each other. It's best to start with from the bottom up and then gradually deepen your communication.

In short, you'll connect non-verbally, then get the facts of the other person's situation. From the facts, you'll try to paraphrase the meaning. And from the meaning, you'll try to reflect what the other person is feeling. So connect, get the facts, get the meaning and reflect the emotions.

Some people will be naturally inclined for certain skills. The challenge is for everyone to be as well rounded as possible.

Attending is important because it keeps these communication skills real and genuine. You don't have to become a new person with these skills. Just be yourself.

You do this "attending" all the time. The goal here is be intentional when communicating with someone else.

There's nothing fancy here. This might feel tedious and too simple, but think of it as a foundation for a building that's about to go up.

If there are disagreements in the relationship, summarizing is a good skills to get the baseline facts. Surprisingly, this can be very useful.

Also surprising is how much concentration you might need to do this. But then again, concentration and focus is the whole point of communicating with another.

While summarizing is objective, paraphrasing is subjective. The attitude is: "I'm trying to understand your situation, so is this what you mean ...?" 

It is inherently risky because you're trying to restate another person's meaning of a situation. It takes a bit of practice, but when it works it's a powerful way to connect.

When you put yourself in the "shoes of another" look for what's most important to them while you're in their shoes. Look for patterns, core messages, themes and generalizations about their situation. 

Yes, you're trying to understand them. You might not get it right so you're essentially asking them about the conclusions you're drawing, the meaning you're trying to grasp "as if" you were them. Paraphrasing means pulling together related ideas from their story and trying to state any hidden meanings. Because you might get it wrong, you can almost phrase it as a question, "So what you mean is ...?"

Summarizing and Paraphrasing contain facts and meanings. These are mostly thoughts and behaviours. 

The next level of communication is emotion. It's important to know the emotional part of us is different than our thinking part. 

Based on our families, upbringing, culture, or gender we tend to have a preference for one domain of experience over the other. The human challenge is to be as complete and well rounded as possible.

Here's a practical working definition of emotions. Like colours, emotions can be simple, clear or blended and mixed.

 

Many feelings need to be expressed in more than one single term or phrase. Frequently we only communicate one feeling - usually the most negative one. This doesn't have to be the case. Sharing positive feelings like love, care and joy need to be the lifeblood of healthy interactions. 

This skill is a useful way to listen and respond to what the other person is feeling. In a way, when you are summarizing and paraphrasing you are reflecting back what the other person is thinking.

But when you use "You feel _____ because _____" you're talking in the emotional realm. You're trying to show the other person you have a sense of what they are feeling. 

This skill gets you and the other person on the same page, especially in the emotional sphere.

Just connect

Life gets busy and we can lose contact with people. If this disconnect becomes protracted, it's useful to get back to the basics. 

These skills are used in everyday life. But using them intentionally deepens the connection between you and the other person. 

It's helpful to use these skills from the bottom up and gradually deepen your connection with the other. Take time for each person to speak uninterrupted for a few minutes, then have the listener practice these skills in response for a few minutes. Then ask for clarification. Next repeat with the listener now sharing something about their life.

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© 2018 by James Lowe