Effective communications are critical to any relationship, and yet when I do couples counseling or business consulting, I often find that clients have never been taught fundamental skills.
One problem I see over and over is that instead of being open and listening to what is being said, clients are locked in cycles of defending their own agenda and trying to prove to the other party that I am right and that leads to not hearing what your partner is saying, and to an escalating conflict. Using reflective listening disarms this conflict and begins to bring about an atmosphere of mutual interest, trust and good will.
Reflective listening consists of slowing the conversation down, and after a sentence or two, repeating back to your partner in your own words what you think they are saying. Then you ask if you got everything, if your partner thinks you heard them accurately and completely. You keep trying this until your partner says, “Yes, I feel understood.” Then you switch, and you say a few sentences to your partner, and they repeat what they heard, again in their own words, back to you. This sounds simple, but in practice it’s amazing how long it takes to get agreement that you understood completely.
There are two other links in this section which will take you to an eight slide summary version of a communications model, or a thirty-five slide more detailed version. This model says in brief that there are five main components to any communication that deserve attention and awareness – it’s called the Awareness Wheel. One frequent problem in communicating with and understanding one another is that a person often unconsciously makes assumptions or interpretations about what is happening, and then assumes that is reality – and that our partner is in the same reality. Our interpretations generate emotions, and the sad thing is we can be caught in major anger or hurt because my interpretation is different than yours, and neither of us knows it. The model helps you to clarify interpretations and emotions by going back to the original sensory data (what you saw, heard or felt) and checking each other’s interpretations. You may or may not get to agreement on the sensory data or the interpretations, but it’s helpful to know what each of you is thinking and perceiving.
Another main problem is that people often aren’t clear about what they want, or often don’t say what they want clearly. By taking the time to notice what I want, saying that clearly as a preference instead of a demand, and listening to what your partner wants, it’s easier to negotiate what happens in ways that make everyone involved more likely to be happy.
Both reflective listening and using the Awareness Wheel model promote effective communication, and I hope they benefit you.