Expressing yourself well goes a long way toward getting what you want.
There are two important facets of self-expression…what you want to say and how you are saying it. These are otherwise referred to as, content (what) and process (how). Most of us make this distinction intuitively. We react viscerally when someone says something with “attitude.” In this case, their process gets in the way of communicating their content.
Knowing what you want to say is a great starting point. There are five basic places to start when you are addressing a topic.
Beyond these starting places, it’s important to avoid superlatives (e.g., always, never, best, worst, etc.) and certainty. Superlatives and certainty tend to enflame. When things are stated in extremes they tend to create defensiveness in the listener and therefore diminish the likelihood that your points will be received well.
Speaking tentatively invites the listener to join you. Say things like:
“It seems to me that…”
"I'm not certain but what I think you're saying is..."
In addition, it’s important to be as clear as possible about the emotions behind your expression. Your emotions determine the intensity and the quality of your expression. Take, for example, the following request:
“Please call if you are going to be late coming come.”
If this is said with patience and compassion it will likely be pretty easy to accept. If, however, it’s said with anger and disdain, it will likely feel harsh or critical and therefore difficult to accept.
Finally, have some empathy for your listener. Check to see if they are ready to listen. Do they have the time and energy to listen? Is what you have to say likely to be what they want to hear? If not, make sure you are grounded enough to say things respectfully.
To summarize, be clearly aware of what you want to say by identifying your thoughts, emotions, action, intentions and senses. Then, get grounded. Make sure what you are saying isn’t coming out with an intensity that would make it hard to listen to. Finally, have some empathy for your listener and his/her situation.
There’s a substantial difference between hearing and listening. It’s common to hear something but not listen to it. For example, I can know that my partner is talking to me because I hear her voice. But, if she asked me to tell her what she’d said I would have to admit to not knowing. That’s because I heard but didn’t listen.
Here are some typical responses to hearing someone talk:
“I hear you.”
“I know what you mean.”
“I get it.”
All of these responses are normal. They are a standard part of being social and appropriate. But they may have nothing to do with actually listening to what someone has said.
To test this out, the next time someone says to you, “I understand” ask them to tell you exactly what they understand. Maybe they will “hit the nail on the head.” Most likely, however, they will look at you quizzically and not know what to say.
Good listening is the fundamental building block of successful relationship life. Without it, going forward in even the most basic conversation quickly becomes an exercise in miscommunication.
To listen well do the following:
What I’ve described here is a special kind of listening. It’s reserved for problem-solving and the exchange of important ideas. This isn’t appropriate when small talk is called for. And, it isn’t appropriate when there’s an emergency requiring quick action.
Good listening is a sacred activity. It takes practice. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.