This is a technique that is a very simple tool to vastly improve communications between any two people, man and woman, parent and child, employer and employee, immediately. For many years, along with Fair Fighting, I’ve instructed people in this technique. Yet, I find that people will try it for a day or two and then not use it anymore.
I’ve tried to understand why people won’t use something that is so helpful and will greatly reduce, if not eliminate, conflict and lead to conflict resolution.
I’ve inferred that there are two or three things about this technique that cause people to ignore using it during times when it absolutely should be used. First, when people are upset or angry, they want to say what they have to say, in rapid fire, making sure they deliver all of their points to the other person as quickly as possible and then, when the other person is talking, they are only hearing part of what is being said while, at the same time, composing in their mind what they are going to say next. So the person who is talking doesn’t get the full attention of the listener. I’ve observed that people actually don’t hear what the other person just said but they believe they have and what they believe they heard is what they respond to. Second, when one is angry it feels good to let that adrenalin loose and just vent. Never mind that just venting without thinking or hearing is like taking a sledgehammer to your grandmother’s china. What is said in anger might be apologized for later but it will always leave a scar. Create enough scars and the relationship dies no matter how many apologies are offered. And third, it slows the process of communication way down. It slows heated communication down so much that doing active listening when one is upset feels tedious. That’s the whole point though. Using active listening will slow everyone down which will have an overall calming effect. An average person only has forty-five minutes of available adrenalin in their system so keeping something going for forty-five minutes will have burned off the adrenalin and allow people to speak from their pain or fear rather than their anger.
I guarantee anyone who religiously uses active listening will have much more satisfying and effective communications and their relationships will improve. So why not use it you’re thinking? Refer to the above three points and that about sums it up.
Now, there’s another category for which active listening won’t work and that is when one person has decided they want to leave the relationship and they are being provocative in hope that the other person will see themselves as part of the reason the relationship failed so they don’t have to feel guilty about leaving the relationship. Sometimes they are so provocative it forces the other person to completely lose it, yelling and threatening and so forth, which gives the initiator a reason to leave the relationship which isn’t the reason they’re leaving the relationship at all. So, if you use active listening and get nowhere with it, consider that the other person is attempting to terminate the relationship and that is their goal in having the argument or many arguments. It is best then to seek counseling for the two of you.
Active listening is so simple a child, particularly a teenager, can learn to use it.
So, you’re wondering when am I going to tell you just what active listening is?
When a serious conversation begins, one that could lead to an argument if it isn’t already an argument, repeat back to the other person exactly what you just heard them say to you, as a question. Give the other person a chance to either agree that that is what they just said or to restate what they just said. Then you repeat back to the person a second time, in the form of a question, what you think they just said. Repeat this process as many times as it takes, until the speaker agrees that is what they said. Then it is your turn to say what you have to say and the other person does what you just did, repeating in the form of a question what you just said, until you agree that is what you said. Go back and forth this way until you are sure each of you has clearly heard the other, understands what they are saying, and then you can begin to see if there is some middle ground the two of you can agree on. Begin a series of compromise proposals, again using active listening, until there is an agreement both of you can live with. Each will probably have to give a little but neither will lose completely.
I caution you to make short statements because no one can remember two or three paragraphs to repeat back to the other. A few sentences or a paragraph will do. There will be plenty of time to cover all of the talking points.
Never, ever have an argument, no matter how good it will seem to feel to open your mouth and let that energy out as you climb into the car, are on the telephone, especially if one person is at work, have to leave in five minutes or one of you is late to something or has to be somewhere soon so they have to go.
I can’t state this too often; what you say in anger you can never take back or completely repair, and it will ultimately destroy a relationship that you could deeply regret losing after there is no longer a relationship to argue about.
A good relationship is like a pearl in an oyster. It forms over time and takes work but, in the end, you have a beautiful, unique, pearl, one of a kind, that is many times more valuable than prying open the oyster and swallowing it down whole because you just can’t wait to eat (unless you’re intending to eat oysters in the first place that is).
Be patient. Angry people are hurting people. Two angry people are two hurting people. Neither is stronger or weaker but each believes the other doesn’t care to help solve the problem.
Anne: “I feel like you go to bed early to avoid being with me.”
John: “You feel like I’m going to bed early to avoid being with you?”
John: “I feel like you aren’t interested in me sexually, and I suppose I do go to bed to get some sleep since nothing is going to happen anyway.”
Anne: “You are tired of having sex with me because I’m no longer as attractive to you as the women you work with?”
John: “No, I said I feel like you aren’t interested in me sexually so I just go to bed to get a good night’s sleep.”
Anne: “You think I’m not interested in you sexually so you just go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep.”
Anne: “Well, that’s how I feel. I have felt like I’m not attractive to you since the baby was born.”
John: “You don’t think you’ve been attractive since the baby was born?”
Anne. “No. I said I don’t feel like I’ve been attractive to you since the baby was born.”
John: “You haven’t felt like I find you attractive since the baby was born?”
John: “I guess I got the idea that you were tired and not interested in sex because of all that you have to do since the baby was born. I think you’re more attractive than ever. Having a baby has really made you blossom as a woman.”
Anne: “You got the idea that I was tired and not interested in sex because of all the work I’ve had to do since the baby was born and that you think I’m more attractive than ever?”
Anne: “Well, I could use a little more help in the evening so we can be finished with our work at the same time and then we could make love because it sounds like we each thought the other one wasn’t interested.
John: “You would like me to help you more in the evening so we’re both finished at the same time and then we could make love. That it sounds like we each thought the other wasn’t interested?
John: “Sometimes I have to make a couple of business calls while you’re getting the kitchen cleaned up and the baby put down.”
Anne: “You don’t have time to help me in the evening?”
John: “No, sometimes I have to make a couple of business calls in the evening while you’re cleaning the kitchen and putting the baby down.”
Anne: “Sometimes you have to make a few business calls in the evening while I clean the kitchen and put the baby down.”
Anne: “So you don’t have time to help me and then I will be too tired. Can you make your business calls no longer than an hour and I’ll take a bath and read for an hour and then we’ll clean the kitchen and put the baby down together?”
John: “You’ll be too tired if I don’t help you so you’d like to take a bath or read while I make my business calls which I will limit to an hour and then we can clean the kitchen and put the baby down together?”
John: “I think that’s a good idea. The baby will go to bed an hour later then so could you put the baby to bed after we eat and then take a bath or read while I finish my business calls? If the baby still isn’t asleep when I’m finished with my calls I’ll take over from you and finish doing that and help you clean up the kitchen.”
Anne: “You think that’s a good idea but the baby won’t get to bed until an hour later so you’d like me to put the baby to bed and then take a bath or read while you make your calls and then we’ll clean the kitchen together and you’ll finish up with the baby if she still isn’t down by the time you’ve spent an hour on your business calls?”
Anne: “I can do that if you’ll agree to limit your business calls to one hour no matter what.”
John: “You can do that if I agree to limit my business calls to one hour?”