Want someone to listen to you? Listen to them first!

Listening in conflict

We all know how frustrating it is when we have something important to say and the other person just isn’t listening to us.  When we are in conflict, this becomes a pattern that makes it more and more difficult for two people to communicate effectively.  Both people get frustrated because the other person isn’t listening! When this happens, our natural tendency is to talk louder, more forcefully and more emotionally, in the desperate hope that suddenly the other person will hear what we are saying to them. The only problem is, while you are talking, the other person is busy planning their response, identifying all the holes in your argument and composing a blistering reply.  In other words, they are still not listening!

It’s counter-intuitive, but the best way to get someone to listen to what you have to say is to listen to them first.  This doesn’t mean just standing there letting them rant and rave until they take a breath, and then jumping in with your response.  This means REALLY listening to them:  consciously making an effort to pay attention to what they are saying and how they are feeling without interrupting or responding.  Then, most importantly, you need to show them that not only have you heard what they said, you understand what they are saying.

The best way to show someone that you understand them is to summarise back to them what they have said. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them!  You simply want to acknowledge what they have told you.  A good way to start is to say something like “So, let me get this straight, what you are saying is that you feel … because I …”.  Don’t get into an argument in the middle of this – it’s really important at this stage that you simply show them that you understand what they are saying without contributing your own comments or responses.

Ideally, if you have summarised what they are saying more or less correctly, they are going to have to agree with you.  What you are looking for is a response like “YES!  Exactly!”  This is your opportunity to invite them to show you the same courtesy that you just showed them.  Start off with a statement that explains that you would simply like to share with them your perspective of the situation.  For example, “I experienced this a little differently.  For me, …”.  If they start interrupting you, remind them that you listened to what they had to say without interrupting or arguing with them.

If you have first given the other person a chance to have their say, they are much more likely to listen to you more attentively now.  They don’t need to plan their argument in response – they’ve already told you their side of the story and you showed them you heard and understood what they said.

Counter-intuitive, but it works!  Listen first and you are much more likely to be listened to!