It’s amazing to me that certain things aren’t taught in school, like how to engage in effective dialogue or how to do your taxes. I mean, I know I certainly haven’t used Pythagorean’s Theorem since Math 30 in grade 12, but I have certainly had to learn how to talk, listen, do my taxes, change a car battery and clean an oven all on my own – life skills used regularly! Hmmmm..something is missing here…..
Just because we can all talk, does not mean we know how to communicate effectively. The art of communication is a learned and practiced skill. Add in perceived conflict or high stakes emotions, and unless you truly committed to the art of truly conversing, it’s almost impossible to clearly communicate AND be heard or validate the other side of the discussion.
Most of us actually do not realize that high stakes conversations need to be carved out when emotions are regulated and managed, and expectations are reasonable. Again, why isn’t this taught in school?! Not knowing how to manage your emotions or check yourself will intercept your ultimate goals and blow everything up. For example, your ultimate goal may be to have a respectful exchange with your ex spouse for the kids, but every time you talk to each other, your defence mechanism is triggered and you end up in a yelling match about who should be buying underwear.
It’s human nature to get defensive. That is our reptilian brain kicking in – our fight or flight mechanism. We automatically go into full protection mode when we feel threatened, even with words. One cannot effectively made any sort of logical decision or remark when in this state. Scientifically, it is pure emotion – and what I mean by that, is all the blood is effectively in our emotional brain, and our logical brain is devoid of fuel.
We can however, learn to recognize when this is happening, and how to regulate ourselves before saying something or making a decision that we will ultimately regret. We can learn to recognize how long it takes for us to calm ourselves and get back into logical thinking. We can learn what tools we can use to calm or regulate ourselves in order to continue productive dialogue.
How do we set our ego aside, and communicate our feelings, thoughts and actions safely knowing that the other side is without judgement, hearing, validating, understanding and then formulating their response? That seems like it would take forever, but all it takes is practice.
Listen to hear. By showing yourself and the person you are in a dialogue with, reflect back what they said so they know you heard their words. Seems redundant, but it is a tremendous tool for hearing and almost immediately validates the other person’s opinion, position, perspective or feelings. Which makes them open their ears for when its your turn to talk! Cool, right?!
Get curious about what the other person is saying. If something doesn’t jive or you still aren’t understanding what they are trying to say, don’t tell them how it is, with block statements like “I don’t get you.” or “I don’t believe that.” Instead, ask them with statements like “Help me understand______” or “I heard you say ______ can you explain a little more.”
Make space in the conversation. Before you begin to voice your side, ask if they are finished, if there is anything they missed, or they feel that you didn’t hear.
Approach each exchange with respect. Ask permission to go next and hopefully, they too listen to hear. And, the cycle of mature conversation starts all over again.
Remember, there is always an opportunity to ask for space. if you feel your blood boiling, or sending theirs for that matter, it’s always an option to end the conversation, park it and save it for a time when you’re both clear and ready to attack the topics at hand with clear minds and open hearts.
These simple practices create a space of reflection, validation and possibility for new learnings in a conversation. We have all forgotten how to listen as we are all busy waiting to talk. If we take the time, energy and space to listen, imagine what possible learnings and new opportunities are right in front of you.
“Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” – Ambrose Bierce