Monday, March 3, 2014

You Never Listen to ME!

How do you get your point across when your spouse (or sibling, friend, parent) won’t listen? When it comes to having differences of opinion, it’s often difficult to get those closest to us to listen and really hear what we are trying to say.

When we know others well, we develop a short-hand with them. This feels great when our spouse (sibling, friend, etc.) seems to just “get” us, easily understanding our actions or decisions.  But it feels lousy when we are on opposite sides of an issue - especially if they are jumping to conclusions or won’t hear our perspective on a subject. What can be done?

It’s very important to have ground rules for discussing difficult issues. It provides both sides with a road map that promotes listening and understanding, and it creates opportunity for shared decision making and planning. Here are some basic ground rules to try:

1. Take Turns - One person gets the floor at a time. S/he explains his point of view, rationale, supporting details, etc.  The other person listens.
2. No interruptions – This means no dissenting comments, and whoever has the floor is the only one sharing information or opinions.
3. Clarify - After each person is done speaking, the listener must ask questions to clarify what s/he heard. The purpose here is to assure both sides that the listener understands the perspective of the speaker.  Achieving a full level of understanding is key - and does not require the listener to be in agreement.  Reaching a point of strong clarity may take some time and lead to added discussion.
4. Confirm – Once clarity is believed to have been achieved, the listener needs to sum up what s/he understood to be the point of view or rationale of the other side. If the listener doesn’t have it right, return to step 3 and continue the discussion.

These four ground rules are to be used for hearing each side to a story. While hearing only one side may seem sufficient as it changes the thoughts of the other person, take advantage of the momentum and find out what the other party was upset about or uncomfortable with in the first place. By determining where the initial misunderstanding or disagreement came from, you can prevent future disagreements from arising. You may even create a stronger short-hand with this person as a result.