Everyone knows what it takes to truly communicate, right? This is a common topic in therapeutic circles, on blogs, just about all over the place.
We have the skills, no? We all know about letting another talk, paraphrasing back what he said, using ‘I’ statements to convey hurt. You know, all that “therapy talk.”
We’ve all perfected those, haven’t we. Okay, so we’re working on them!
Because often, in the heat of things, exhibiting those skills proves tough to do.
Usually, the closer the relationship, the easier a difference of opinion can erupt into a full-blown fight. That argument was most likely with a spouse, a child, a brother or sister. Because, well, those closest to us know how to push our buttons most.
But this can happen with friends, colleagues, just about any person with whom you interact.
And we know as well, heated exchanges often are due to wanting to be heard, rather than wanting to hear what the other person is saying.
We all have our opinions, no? I know I’ve been guilty of this, and I bet you have too.
I truly believe that deep in our heart of hearts, we all just want to be heard.
Tough to do though, when everybody is wanting the same thing.
So before perfecting all those listening skills, you have to ask an essential question. This underlies all of the arguments, fusses, misunderstandings that occur when communication goes awry:
That seems like such a simple question. And the knee-jerk reaction always is, “Of course I do!” Now her teeth begin to clench. “I wouldn’t be talking to him otherwise!”
But let a minute pass, ask the question again, and almost everybody begins to squirm, just a little bit . . .
Because you’re right in your stance, no? Of course you are! Your thoughts, opinions, values, well, they matter and everyone ought to see it your way.
Damn the torpedoes to what they think!
Okay, so it’s usually not quite that overt, those pesky “I’m right” thoughts. But if they weren’t there, you wouldn’t hold to your position so strongly; wouldn’t have such a resistance to what another thinks.
And when you’re in that mode, you can practice all the active-listening skills in the world, and the fiery results (at least internally) will be the same.
I had a microcosm example of this happen last week. My new wine novel is finished. Yahoo! And we’re going into the marketing tasks for it. I’ve employed the most wonderful writer/marketing expert, Virginia Tell, who excels in this, to help me.
Our first task was for me to write the synopsis, and then distill that down to a one-paragraph description, to then send to big-name authors, requesting jacket blurbs from them.
Now, this isn’t my strength. But it is hers.
The thing is, we had very different ideas on how these documents should read! And this is of course my novel, very close to my heart, and my goal was absolute perfection. Hers was too.
As we went back and forth (yes, it took us all week to get it just right), and I disagreed with a lot, I kept remembering that this truly is her bailiwick. And instead of tossing out what she’d say or write, I’d sit back and remember that. Because I have enormous respect for her and what she does.
And funny thing—it spurred me on to take each draft to the next level. I used what I agreed with, and with what I didn’t, wrote something even better.
The result was a best-case scenario all the way around.
Did we succeed?
Within an hour of sending a query to a NY Times Bestselling author and finalist for the National Book Critics Award, I received a reply: “I'd be delighted to blurb your book.”
I could never, ever, have gotten there without Jinny.
And it happened because we respected one another, listened to one another—through our differences.
I cared—deeply—about what she had to say.
Then all those skills will shoot you forward like heat-seeking missiles.
The deepest form of respect, in the end, is to actually hear what another is saying.
How do you get to the place where you can hear?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.