One of the most frequent topics in individual coaching sessions sounds like this: “I am going through a difficult time with my colleague / my boss / my partner”. Needless to say, clients have their own story, but when I ask them to name more precisely the difficulty, most of the time they all realize it is the manner of communicating. Communication can mean a lot of things. As I do with my clients, I invite you to ask yourself: what is the first step you take to improve your communication in a difficult conversation?
Clients are often convinced that they communicate in a very clear manner. It is the other person who does not understand them, and because of this, the relationship becomes strained and difficult. Yet, what can they not see? If they were to close their eyes, what would happen?
They would concentrate on listening. To what? To the other person.
1. Here is the first step: silence.
What does silence mean? First of all, it implies giving up some habits: talking ( so much that we dominate the dialogue ), assuming we know what the other wants to say, and interrupting. Whether you are a manager, a colleague, or a lover, these habits say one thing to the person in front of you: their opinion is not important to you – and that shows a lack of respect! And the premises of any quality dialogue are shattered!
So let’s get you started: take a break from talking!
At one of the workshops I facilitated, while discussing what coaching means, I mentioned to my clients that during the first 3-4 months of training we were asked… to be silent. One of them was simply alarmed: how could you be silent for 3 months? The colleague next to her replied slightly ironically: We completely understand. It would be impossible for you! It was an amusing remark for everybody, including the client who asked. And she went on: I couldn’t. And after the 3 months, what did you do? You kept on talking for sure!
Well, by being silent, we learned to listen!
Is listening a way of communication? I would say that it is the most important communication skill, and a quality manner of interacting with people.
Yet, there are different types of listening.
I often hear: listen to what he told me! What a reaction he had! How can he say / do this? That shows what kind of a person he is!
Indeed, most often listening can be full of evaluations and judgments toward the person we are listening to.
Or, while you are silent and supposedly ‘listening’, you might rehearse your next reply, or run your mind to other issues that the conversation reminds you of. This is typically called distracted listening.
But what if you chose to train your listening as a communication skill? A first step would be just stopping the habit of issuing judgments, opinions, labels, preconceived ideas, and previous experiences. Ideas can be viewed with openness and curiosity by both conversation partners. That is, we go beyond the area of contradictory discussions and create space for dialogue. People are different from their ideas – let’s never confuse an idea for a person!
Moreover, listening involves perceiving both the words and the non-verbal elements that accompany them: the tone of voice, the mimicry, the gestures, the posture, the eye contact, and the pauses in speech.
3. Respect and appreciation
These two are in fact the unseen basis of a quality dialogue. Undermined by interruptions and distracted listening, they surely lead to the difficult relationships many clients complain about.
Listening can be a powerful energy, which stimulates the authenticity of the one you listen to. The listener can hear the gold in the conversation and create such positive energy that the speaker will begin to speak and open in a whole new way.
Remember when someone listened to you this way: you felt strong and honored!
So I urge you to listen as if your life depended on it! Listen to the speaker’s commitments, dreams, love and vulnerability. Listen to what makes the speaker appreciate and enjoy life.
What do quality silence and listening bring to you?
As we develop our ability to listen, we become aware of how fascinating each person is, and love is present in all dialogues. Difficult relationships and discussions naturally defuse themselves!