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You know how sometimes a conversation just seems to go bad, and you didn't see it coming?  You end up feeling awful, sort of know it's not right, but don't quite understand it?

It's possible to prevent bad things from happening, by slowing down and noticing our reactions.  Our initial reaction to something somebody says, is not necessarily correct, appropriate or helpful.  We might feel sad, hurt, angry, but it doesn't necessarily follow that it's the other person's fault, or that anything is really wrong.  Sometimes it's just a knee jerk, subconscious reaction, that can be sorted out.

Instead of saying something to try to 'hurt the other person back', we need to stop and think first, and let our feelings settle before we do or say anything.

This is really hard to do, I know.  Those feelings are so strong sometimes, and come up so quickly, that we feel a strong urge to defend ourselves (against what?), to retaliate, to say or do something dramatic so the other person will understand how bad we feel, and care, and to put the attention and focus back on ourselves.

One way we can avoid this happening is by just listening.  What is the other person really trying to tell us?  What did they actually say?  Was it really about us?  Maybe it was about them.  Maybe they were just trying to tell us how they feel.  Maybe they weren't trying to criticize or blame us for anything.  Maybe there was no threat or danger there at all.  Maybe it's just the tone of their voice and the emotion in it that frightened us.

If we just listen, we take the focus off ourselves and our own emotions.  If we just try to understand and take in what the other person is saying, then there is actual communication going on, and not a soap opera.

Imagine you are the other person, trying to express how you are feeling, or convey a thought or idea, or share something.  You want the other person to at least listen and try to understand what you are getting at, don't you?

How do you know when you have been heard and understood?  By the person you are talking to acknowledging, reflecting, paraphrasing, seeking clarification, asking questions, and listening without reacting, judging, or advising.

If we can pause for long enough to apply a little logic, we can see that if we are feeling bad, whether it's sad, hurt, angry or frightened or under threat, we are not at that moment in a good position to make any judgements or decisions, form any conclusions, or even form a sentence.  It's better to just shut up and listen, recognize what we are feeling, ask ourselves where it is coming from, and wait.

A lot of the time, if we say things or do things when we're feeling those kinds of emotions, there's not much sense in it.  We're just looking for attention, help, sympathy.  We should be really careful here, because we can say or do things which are destructive and damaging if we're not careful.

This is not to say that we should not share our feelings.  Being able to tell someone how we are feeling is a very positive thing to do, even if we're not feeling good.  We just have to do it carefully, without blaming, with as little melodrama as possible, keeping to 'just the facts ma'am' as much as we can.  "I" messages and all that.  "I feel ........"    "I'm confused about ........."   "I'm not sure what is the best thing to do about ........."  If we keep it clean like this, the chances of the other person listening well are greatly increased.

Telling someone honestly and openly how we are feeling, what we are afraid of, what is going on for us, is a beautiful sign of trust in that person - if we are doing it honestly, without blaming, without judgement, without any desire to manipulate.
So, you've listened to the other person, and you think it's your turn, and you want to tell them how you feel now.  How they've just made you feel.

Hang on!  This might not be the best time to go into it too much.  Are you being impatient, jumping the gun?  It's their turn, it's their time, it's their moment.  You can tell your stuff another time - a time when your stuff is not just a reaction.
Just slow down, wait, listen, try to understand, and let the other person know what you're hearing.  You don't need to do anything else!  You don't need to judge, decide, direct, analyse, conclude etc.  You don't need to assume it's all about you and start getting defensive or reacting.

If you can do this, really do this, you're a great listener, a great communicator.  The other person will appreciate it, you'll learn something, they'll learn something, and the person being allowed to express their thoughts and feelings might gain some clarity.  Only after you've really fully heard them might you have anything relevant to say.

Practice this, and you'll be setting a good example and reinforcing an excellent habit for yourself.  You'll learn a lot more than you otherwise would too, about yourself and those you talk to.

 

Comments   

#2 Loretta 2008-02-22 01:51
How true, wish I had read this a week ago. A neighbor did something I wasn't expecting, and I was angry, upset etc. I was in the middle of lunch with company, so quite distracted at the time. I have had pause since to think of this and realize that there was miscommunication on both parts. It was embarrassing at the time, and I will speak directly to this person soon and clarify both of our feelings on it.

Thanks for this informative article. with 25,000 people receiving your newsletters already, I don't know where you find time to share more. There is obviously passion in what you are doing in helping others have better lives.

Loretta
#1 Deanna 2008-02-22 01:43
Wow - a very powerful lesson, if only we can be patient enough to apply these lessons on a daily basis. When our loved ones come home from work, one thing I have found is to give them a 'quiet period' of at least a half hour. They can then unwind from working all day and then be receptive to conversation from you. I mean who wants to know how well you were able to get the rust stains out of the toilet, or how the laundry smells using the new scented laundry soap!! Until I can burn these lessons into my head to where they come natural, I plan to print this page off and read it an hour before my husband comes home. Wish me luck!!

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