A friend asked me for advice as she was experiencing difficulties making child arrangements with her child’s father. She felt he was making fairly big decisions without consulting her and they had argued. I couldn’t mediate for them as I knew them both. They had arranged to meet to discuss their issues. She wanted information about the law. She frantically made notes and said she had prepared a rough script covering her main concerns so she didn’t get bamboozled. My advice? I told her to rip the notes up and to tell him she really wanted to listen to him and hear how things felt from his perspective. I told her not to interrupt him and to listen to learn and not to reply. I said it would be hard, but she shouldn’t try and defend herself or reply until he had finished. At that point she should summarise what he had said to let him know she had heard him and to check she had understood him correctly. She thanked me but I knew she was thinking, ‘is that it?’ That really is it though! Listening is key. When we actively listen to someone they feel heard and far more willing to then listen to us.
Speak Less, Listen More
My friend called me after their meeting. She said she had very reluctantly kept her notes in her bag and followed my advice. ‘It worked!’ she exclaimed. ‘I listened even though at one point I had to sit on my hands to stop myself interrupting. After I listened and summarised how I felt he felt, he listened to me – I mean he really listened.’ She said she told him what she had told him many times before; but for some reason this time he actually listened and took on board her concerns. They had stopped talking at each other and were now talking to each other.
When we have conversations we often miss much of what is said as we are busy listening only to respond. If we listen to learn then misunderstandings can be cleared up then and there, just by asking some simple questions or seeking clarification. It requires curiosity and is a skill that has to be developed. Next time you feel that a conversation is deteriorating, stop and ask the person to repeat what they have said as you aren’t sure you understand. Very often this can stop a situation escalating. When clients come to me they have invariably stopped listening or they don’t listen well enough. I’m guilty of this too at times. However, I know the key to resolving communication issues is to remind myself that I need to speak less and listen more.
Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar
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