Effective Communication vs. Arguments (2)

In the last arti­cle we talked about prepar­ing for dif­fi­cult and pos­si­bly emo­tion­ally charged con­ver­sa­tion. In this arti­cle we will see how to actu­ally con­duct an effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion that may promise the res­o­lu­tion of a conflict.

The Rela­tion­ship Saver rec­om­mends agree­ing with your part­ner. Dis­agree­ments are unfor­tu­nately, often more accu­rately called argu­ments. (See the def­i­n­i­tion of argu­ment in a dic­tio­nary or in the pre­vi­ous arti­cle “Effec­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion vs. Argu­ments (1)”.) You must have heard the tech­nique that helps in heated con­ver­sa­tions to say “and” instead of “but” in reply to a state­ment. It is just a small part that points towards an agreement.

There are two parts to every con­ver­sa­tion: speak­ing and lis­ten­ing. Well, this may seems very obvi­ous but hold your horses, there is more to it than meets the eye. Let’s see what we say and how we say it when we speak and how we lis­ten when we do not speak.

Psy­chol­o­gists have iden­ti­fied three cat­e­gories of peo­ple and their behav­iors when it comes to heated dis­cus­sions: those who digress to threats and name-calling (tch, tch…), those who revert to silent fum­ing (mak­ing you, or them­selves silently wrong), and those who speak openly, hon­estly and effec­tively. Not sur­pris­ingly, they dis­cov­ered by fol­low­ing cou­ples with all three ways of behav­ior for 10 years, that the 90% of cou­ples who were able to resolve their high-stake, con­tro­ver­sial and emo­tion­ally charged dif­fer­ences in a respect­ful and hon­est man­ner stayed together; those who did not, split up.

As far as speak­ing is con­cerned, if you want to be effec­tive you need to be brave, not fear­ful, open, not closed, hon­est, not deceit­ful, coop­er­a­tive, not com­pet­i­tive, will­ing, not withholding.

Courage is nec­es­sary when you are vul­ner­a­ble, when you are about to dis­close the under­belly of your rea­son­ing, being the nec­es­sary com­po­nent of hon­est con­ver­sa­tion that will make your part­ner and some­times your­self, under­stand your inten­tions behind your behav­ior. If you are com­mit­ted to resolv­ing dif­fi­cult issues you must love truth, more than sav­ing your face and sat­is­fy­ing your ego.

In start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion it is always good to begin with agree­ing with each other. So, find some com­mon ground where you may share an opin­ion or describe the sit­u­a­tion that both of you would agree on. Make sure both of you are clear on what you are going to have a con­ver­sa­tion about.

Just the facts, Ma’am.”  Make sure you do not con­fuse opin­ions and facts. You can usu­ally both eas­ily agree on facts, but opin­ions are your own. Inter­pre­ta­tions of the facts and mean­ings of the events are yours only. Own them and men­tion that they are yours. Do not say things like “You are a jerk. You were very rude and you hurt my feel­ings when you talked to me last night when you came home.” Notice that all these state­ments in one sen­tence start with you. Being rude and a jerk are totally your inter­pre­ta­tion and the mean­ing you gave to his behav­ior. Maybe his inten­tion was some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, so do not present that his being rude is a fact. Sec­ondly, no one can make you feel any­thing. You gen­er­ate your feel­ings, so be respon­si­ble for them. Yes, someone’s words or actions may trig­ger your feel­ings, but you must be response-able i.e., you have a choice in how to respond. Uncon­scious response is called reac­tion, which is auto­matic. When­ever you are express­ing your opin­ion, start the sen­tence with “I”. So, this leaves us with facts: he talked to you last night when he came home. That is a fact. Every moment dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion you must strive to rec­og­nize what your opin­ions are and not con­fuse them with an objec­tive truth. Say­ing, you are a jerk is not stat­ing a fact. It is your opin­ion. The bet­ter way to say it is: “You came across to me (or, I saw you, or I thought you were) as a jerk and very rude last night. My feel­ings were hurt.”

Another part is mak­ing sure that you rec­om­mend some sort of action towards the res­o­lu­tion. If you want to have a con­ver­sa­tion that will pro­duce results you must deal with specifics as opposed to gen­er­al­i­ties. As I men­tion in The Game­less Rela­tion­ship, effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sists of only two con­ver­sa­tions: effec­tive requests and effec­tive promises. Effec­tive means that requests and promises are the only con­ver­sa­tions that will move pos­si­bil­ity into real­ity. Noth­ing hap­pens with­out requests and ful­filled promises.
Find out more about this on http://www.GamelessRelationship.com/

Always explain the rea­son­ing behind your state­ments and be open to the input of the infor­ma­tion from your part­ner. In this way you will cut the amount of often-wrong assump­tions on his part. If you are cor­rectly under­stood, it may very well hap­pen that after your partner’s input and ideas you will change your mind for the ben­e­fit of a win/win out­come. Humil­ity does not mean giv­ing up your point of view. Your pur­pose is to explore the sit­u­a­tion together, not to aban­don your per­spec­tive. It may hap­pen that your part­ner starts get­ting aggres­sive. As long as you stick to your val­ues and fol­low the above rec­om­men­da­tions you will not fall into the trap of auto­mat­i­cally and emo­tion­ally react­ing to his aggres­sion. Remem­ber you are in charge of your experience.

Now, a few words about lis­ten­ing, or shall we call it enquiry? Some call it active lis­ten­ing. How­ever you call it, here are some help­ful prin­ci­ples that if fol­lowed may pro­duce noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle. We have two ears and one mouth, thus we should lis­ten twice as much as we talk. A few sug­ges­tions on how to lis­ten: no mat­ter how charged a sit­u­a­tion is you can always achieve almost com­plete dis­charge by pay­ing com­plete atten­tion while she talks. It is more than that. Lis­ten as if nuggets of gold are pour­ing out of her mouth. It does not mat­ter if you share her opin­ion or not. You are get­ting the infor­ma­tion about her think­ing process, men­tal state, and the inten­tion behind her behav­ior. You are tru­ing to get to the truth, to the bot­tom of it. Truth does not come out eas­ily at the first attempt. It takes repeated enquiry and safe environment.

By intently lis­ten­ing and being gen­uinely inter­ested instead of hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with your­self, prepar­ing answers and hav­ing opin­ions, try­ing to fin­ish her sen­tences and pre­sum­ing that you know what she wants to say because you “heard it so many times before”, you will encour­age her to say what truly is on her mind. Some­times even she may be sur­prised by the truth that comes out of her mouth that she was not even aware of. Dur­ing the process of lis­ten­ing, do not speak nor give answers or opin­ions unless asked to do so. The other jus­ti­fi­able time to say any­thing is to inquire as to under­stand bet­ter what she is try­ing to say. Do not offer your opin­ions, rebut­tals, crit­i­cisms and such. Be very inter­ested. Your body lan­guage has to be con­sis­tent with your inten­tion to lis­ten. Do not fid­get, doo­dle, scan the envi­ron­ment, cross your arms and such. Con­cen­trate on her words only. Once you hear what she had to say give it back to her by sum­ma­riz­ing it, so that she a) knows that she was heard, and b) that you know that you got it right with­out your inter­pre­ta­tions and arbi­trary mean­ings that you might have slapped onto what she said.

Do not give your opin­ions, com­ments or solu­tions with­out her con­sent. Ask if she wants to hear what you want to say. Very often peo­ple just want to be heard. Strange as it may sound, just lis­ten­ing and “get­ting it” may be enough to dis­solve any dis­agree­ment between you two.

Acknowl­edge her for what­ever you can and even for what you can­not. You’ve heard about “pay for­ward” instead of pay back. Acknowl­edg­ment is a per­fect plat­form for such a “pay­ment”. Acknowl­edg­ment is not sim­ply a reac­tion, polite expla­na­tion of what hap­pened in the past and cer­tainly not a manip­u­la­tive tool. Acknowl­edg­ment can be a very pow­er­ful incen­tive to agree­ment, under­stand­ing and encour­age­ment for inti­macy and even behav­ioral change if gen­uine. The core of effec­tive lis­ten­ing has noth­ing to do with tech­nique; it is an atti­tude. By pro­vid­ing lis­ten­ing to her, you show that you care. As the say­ing goes: “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”

These few points in this arti­cle about speak­ing and lis­ten­ing are tools not to be used on your part­ner but with your part­ner.  These are coop­er­a­tion tools and not manip­u­la­tion tools. So, do not keep this knowl­edge to your­self. Share it with your part­ner. Make sure you do not do it in a con­de­scend­ing way.

Lastly, keep the con­ver­sa­tion in integrity, whole and com­plete, espe­cially com­plete, when there is noth­ing else to say or learn. If you think that for any rea­son you can­not fin­ish the con­ver­sa­tion make sure that you have the time and the place set for con­tin­u­ing it until complete.

If you fol­low these prin­ci­ples in any con­ver­sa­tion the like­li­hood of bet­ter­ment and/or con­tin­u­a­tion of a good rela­tion­ship is almost guaranteed.

Note: Fred Kofman’s phe­nom­e­nal book “Con­scious Busi­ness” inspired me to write this arti­cle. Thank you.





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