- Dr. Teresa Edwards
Communication Skills to Be Heard
It's nice to be heard and understood when talking to someone, especially about an important issue. But often, we unknowingly do things that sabotage our efforts and leave us, and the other person, feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. If your goal is to be heard and understood, here are some simple communication skills that can help you get there.
Use "I" statements.
"I" statements are used to help the speaker focus on their own feelings, thoughts, and needs, and avoid criticizing or blaming the other person. Criticism and blame will automatically bring up defensiveness in the listener, who then stops listening to what's being said and starts forming their response to the criticism and blame.
Most of my clients have heard the advice of using "I" instead of "you" statements, but a lot of them, when starting out, don't do it correctly. Some people switch "I" statements around so that they are really "you" statements in disguise. For example, if someone said, "I felt hurt because all you think about is yourself and what you want" - this is really a "you" statement in disguise. A true "I" statement would look like, "I felt hurt because it didn't seem like my feelings were being considered. It would mean a lot to me to know that I'm important." This switch can be a little tricky at first, but with practice, it will get easier and easier.
I love the Proverb that says "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1, NIV). Research by Dr. John Gottman found that the way we start a discussion determines how the discussion will go 94% of the time. When making requests and stating needs, use a soft word, and be polite and respectful to the other person. A person is always more willing to listen when they're feeling respected.
State your needs clearly
Most people have fairly short attention spans, especially if they're in a situation in which they feel anxious or upset. In counseling sessions, I've seen men's eyes glaze over as they listen to their wives repeat themselves over and over. Make your point directly and succinctly instead of going on and on. This can be done by using a formula such as, "I felt ______ when _____, and I need ______." Take some breaks in speaking so that the listener can reflect and ask questions in case they don't understand.
Part of feeling emotionally connected in a relationship is feeling heard and understood, especially on serious issues. Help the important people in your life be able to listen without defensiveness or frustration for a more satisfying conversation for both of you.