When Speaking Your Whole Truth May not be the Best Idea

This will be the last post in our series on effective communication in relationships. We’ve looked at why we get into relationships at all, dimensions and types of intimacy, the importance of self-disclosure to build intimacy and the ways we can go about effective self-disclosure.

But what about those times when the things we might disclose to another will hurt them? Complete honesty may not always be the best choice in terms of maintaining and enhancing relationships. Let’s tease this out a bit by looking at some alternatives we typically turn to when we don’t believe complete honesty is an option.

lying - google image

Lying

Reaching for the good, old, white lie is a tried and true practice. Oh, those puns do have a way of slipping in on the Saying What Matters lady.

We may offer up the following reasons for being less than honest:

  • We wish to protect the other from the world
  • We wish to shield the other from harsh realities
  • We don’t want to hurt the  other’s feelings

Of course, that isn’t the whole story. We often tell the white lie in our own interest:

  • To save face
  • To avoid tension or conflict
  • To expand or reduce relationships
  • To gain power or advantage

It’s likely that the majority of white lies are told for selfish reasons and not to protect others. The effects of lying on an intimate relationship depends on how important the information lied about is to both parties – motive becomes all-important. An occasional white lie in a stable relationship doesn’t appear to cause a problem and may in fact make day-to-day life run more smoothly.

Equivocating

I’ve always like the sound of this word, though the results aren’t always the best. What do you do when you don’t want to come right out with an unpleasant truth but you don’t want to lie either? We often buy for time, change the subject or divert the other person. There are as many equivocating strategies as there are people practicing them. And no wonder – equivocating allows us to get off the hook and we spare ourselves and others embarrassment. Though we may only be delaying the inevitable, it feels like a relief at the time.

Hinting

We might resort to hinting when we want to avoid embarrassing the other person while still getting the message across. Our prime objective is probably to avoid embarrassment to ourselves. But the hinting strategy can only work if the other person understands what we’re getting at. Have you ever picked at an imaginary something stuck between your front teeth in the hope the other person will actually get the hint and remove the unsightly, green chunk of spinach stuck in his or her own teeth? It doesn’t always work and it’s quite possible you ended up looking foolish.

ethics - google image

So, what are the ethics of evasion?

Well, they’re certainly not simple or clear cut. Most people can think of an example when telling less than the whole truth was the right thing to do. If your best friend has already had her hair cut in a not-so flattering style, telling her your  honest opinion might not be helpful. After all, the hair is gone. It might be a better strategy to lay in wait for the next time she goes for a haircut and throw your weight behind a different choice. Who knows? That could backfire, too. There was the time I raved about a friend’s less-than-stellar apple pie brought to a potluck because I thought she needed an ego-boost and was then stuck with her apple pies at every gathering far into the future. Oh well – how bad can an apple pie be?

Some type of hedging on total honesty is likely to occur:

  • When it is part of an acceptable social norm or exchange
  • When it is mutually advantageous
  • When it helps avoid embarrassment
  • When it helps us to avoid confronting an unpleasant truth
  • When we have been asked to lie

What to ask yourself in these cases?

  1. Is this indirect message really in the best interest of the other and the relationship? Or is this really about me and my issues?
  2. Is this evasion my only option?
  3. Is this the best way to behave under these circumstances?

No easy answers for sure. So, get curious. Next time you’re up against the wall and reaching for evasion tactics, ask yourself – is this really about the other person or is it about me? You might be surprised by the answer you get.

Stature - Bruce Witzel photo

Posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Photography, Relationship, Self Help, Teaching | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The How of Self-Disclosure

Two posts ago we discussed the importance of considering the question of where, when and with whom it is appropriate to disclose personal information. Then we took a step back to think about why we would bother. Today we take a leap forward with some guidelines for getting this self-disclosure thing right.

Sun image - Bruce Witzel photo

But first things first – what are the characteristics of self-disclosure?

Self-disclosure usually occurs one-on-one with another person. (You might be in the habit of telling all to your pet fish but we’re all about person-to-person interactions on Saying What Matters.) The process involves risk and most people will work at managing that risk.

Self-disclosure happens slowly, over time. We generally test the water, see how we feel and if all is well, we do it a bit more.

Self-disclosure is best done judiciously. More, in this case, isn’t always better. It’s okay to be choosy with this process.

Self-disclosure almost always occurs in the context of a positive relationship. We need to feel accepted by the other person before we are willing to open up. Hard to tell how that pet fish feels towards us.

google guidelines imageGuidelines for Competent Self-disclosure

1. Is the person you are about to share personal information with important to you? Remember that old saying – don’t throw your pearls before swine. Not to imply that all those with whom we don’t share are living in a pen and feeding off of table scraps, but more to emphasize that what we are sharing is precious.

2. Is the risk of sharing reasonable? This question spans a few important dimensions – with this particular person, at this particular time, in this particular setting. We want to be realistic and set ourselves up for success. It might be very appropriate to tell your husband your new idea for rejuvenating yourself involves separate vacations. It might not be a good idea to spring it on him at the airport just as the two of you are about to fly away together and you are making your way to a different gate.

3. Is the disclosure relevant to the situation at hand? Context matters. Think back to that educational group setting that was mentioned in a previous post. Telling of how you negotiated the brutality of prison life when the group is tasked with creating a list of ways to work together effectively will probably not be appreciated – though it’s quite possible you will have a captive audience. No pun intended.

4. Is the amount and type of disclosures appropriate? We don’t want to rush in with too much, too soon. A romantic relationship is developing and you suspect the other person didn’t have the greatest childhood. Heck, neither did you. A full and detailed recitation, on the second date, of the many times you went to bed hungry is probably too much, too soon. You are aiming for a gradual, paced type of telling. And this goes for positive as well as negative topics.

5. Will the effect be constructive to the relationship? This is an important consideration. Will the sharing move the relationship forward? Can the other person and the relationship handle this information? When it comes to self-disclosure we are required to move beyond the straightforward, honesty-is-the-best-policy approach.

6. Is what we are about to self-disclose clear and understandable? Are we able to make it that way? If you’ve ever been in a conversation with another person who is sharing something that is obscure and leaves you wondering if they are truly saying they were abducted by aliens or possibly they hear voices or were once employed as an international spy, you know how frustrating this type of conversation can be.

7. Is your self-disclosure reciprocated? Beware of situations where you do all the gut-wrenching emotional sharing and the other person, though perhaps a great listener and empathetic, reveals nothing of themselves. Unless, of course, this person is a professional paid to hear such things. Sharing in relationships is meant to be a give and take process.

Fish pond - Bruce Witzel photo

Wow – even the Saying What Matters lady has to admit, this is a lot to think about. Take the guidelines one at a time. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. In the next post we’ll wrap-up this group of posts that has dealt with communication in relationships by taking a look at some of the things we resort to when we decide honest self-disclosure is not the best way to go.

Posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Photography, Relationship, Self Help, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Why of Self-Disclosure

In our last post we discussed the importance of thinking about where, when and with whom it is appropriate to disclose personal information. Today we take a step back to think about why we would bother.

Reasons for Self-disclosure

Does anyone remember Star Trek and the prime directive? Our main reason for self-disclosing is a bit like a prime directive. We’re trying to create intimacy in relationships. Once we start disclosing there can be a snowball effect that may include some or all of the following.

Catharsis

The act of speaking our truth to another can bring about personal growth through a process where we reveal our self to our self. That may, in turn, lead to resolutions of various issues. Know thyself as the old saying goes.

New Denver - Bruce Witzel photo

Self-clarification

As we speak of matters close to the heart we clarify own beliefs, values, attitudes, and feelings. Words spoken into the space between two people are powerful.

Self-validation

We may confirm important parts of our own self-concept as we speak.

Reciprocity

By taking the risk to share our own truth we open the door for others to do the same.

Identity management

When we share our truth with another we may become more attractive to that person. Beauty is truth and truth is beauty.

New Denver 2 - Bruce Witzel photo

Relationship maintenance and enhancement

Honesty and depth of sharing, when done appropriately, often leads to relational satisfaction and success.

Newsflash folks – motives for self-disclosure are not always pure. Here are two less attractive goals for self-disclosure.

Social control

A person may seek to increase the control they feel they have over another through the use of self-disclosure. If someone in a group lays out, chapter and verse, their vast experience with a certain task, it is possible they will sway members of the group to give more weight to their voice.

Manipulation

Self-disclosure is a calculated in advance move used to achieve a desired result. This type of behaviour can run a gamut of fairly benign to more serious results. One roommate tells another what a terrible day he or she has had with the express purpose of getting out of his or her turn to cook that night. Don’t pull this too often or you’ll be looking for a new roommate but in the grand scheme of life, no biggie. Someone self-discloses personal information (true or untrue) with the express purpose of extracting personal information from another. This type of behaviour could have serious, negative consequences for the person taken in.

Dan Hudson work - Whyte Museum, Banff - Bruce Witzel photo

Get curious about your own reasons for self-disclosing personal information. If you buy into all the benefits and yet you still find yourself hesitating – ask yourself what that’s about. No judging, but if you’ve ever found yourself on the less than stellar side of reasons for self-disclosing, give this some thought. How did acting this way make you feel?

In the next post, we’ll explore some guidelines for effective self-disclosure.

Posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Photography, Relationship, Self Help, Teaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Self-disclosure: What is it?

In the last post we discussed the idea that intimacy is built in relationships through various means. It isn’t only done through self-disclosure. But a time will inevitably come, in most important relationships, when the invitation to open up, to reveal things close to the heart presents itself. What then?

Good question. How do we negotiate the when, where and with who questions around self-disclosure?

The first step is realizing that such a negotiation is necessary. It isn’t always something we think about. We’ve probably all had that uncomfortable feeling when we walk away from talking to someone and the words run through our head – too much information, I shouldn’t have said so much or, conversely, I didn’t want to know that much about him or her. These experiences alert us to the need for careful thought when it comes to self-disclosure.

google imageI used to present an activity to classes I taught called the door of disclosure. Each student would receive a folded piece of paper – the front of which looked like a door. When the paper opened, the student would see four quadrants:

  • Things about me I would share with anyone
  • Things about me I would share with someone I am intimate with i.e. a partner, a close friend or family member
  • Things about me I would share with an acquaintance or work colleague
  • Things about me I would share in a classroom or educational, group setting.

Students were asked to put some thought into the type of personal disclosure that is appropriate in each setting and jot down some notes for their own reference. This preparation exercise was important because the class involved a fair amount of small group work and, as anyone who’s been part of a group knows, a group can be a self-disclosure quagmire.

The Saying What Matters Lady is here to tell you, self-disclosure requires careful thought. Let’s start with the basics.

What is self-disclosure?

When we reveal information about ourselves that is significant and would not normally be known to another.

There are degrees of self-disclosure

We always have a choice about how deep we go on any given topic.

Clichés – these represent a very surface level of disclosure – an easily tossed out stock responses that may contain a coded way of hinting that more is going on. But clichés are ambiguous.

Consider this example that we’ll use throughout. Joe runs into Chuck, a good friend he hasn’t seen in years. Chuck asks how Joe’s wife Tammy is doing. Joe replies, “There’s a sucker born every minute, right?” Joe certainly means something but what that meaning might be is ambiguous.

Facts – presenting the facts goes a step beyond a cliché. Chuck gives Joe a confused look and Joe says, “We’re getting a divorce.” This is a verifiable fact and since Chuck didn’t know, Joe has self-disclosed – to a degree.

Opinions – opinions represent a deeper level of disclosure because they reflect values, beliefs, and information about the self. Chuck nods in sympathy and Joe mumbles, “Marriage sure doesn’t mean what it used to.”

Feelings – when we get down to feelings we’re at the most revealing level of disclosure. Chuck says, “Sounds rough. Joe responds, “She broke my heart, man. I can’t see how I’ll ever get over this.”

The Saying What Matters lady loves models and visuals so I want to leave you with something to think about. The Johari Window is a fascinating tool for getting in touch with areas of our life where self-disclosure can take place.

A Model for Self-disclosure – The Johari Window

  • The window contains everything there is to know about you
  • Four quadrants where levels of knowing and not-knowing can shift up and down like a window
  • No two people have the same configuration of window settings

Johari Window

A few things to keep in mind when thinking about the Johari Window:

  • Life experiences make the various windows slide up and down.
  • When we have positive experiences of self-disclosure and allow others to know us better, one window opens wider while another closes somewhat.
  • Blind spots can disappear when another person has the ability to reveal something about ourselves to us without making us overly defensive.
  • Self-awareness can grow with time. One day we have an insight about  ourselves we never had before and the window slides up.

Bathroom collage - Guenette photo

Okay – as usual, get curious about yourself. How open or closed are your Johari windows? If you haven’t given the idea of when, where, and with whom you share personal information a lot of thought, now would be a good time. In our next post we’ll look at the characteristics of self-disclosure and some of the reasons we do it.

Posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Relationship, Self Help, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Intimacy is More Than Telling All

The Saying What Matters lady is back on the scene and anxious to get through these next few posts on communication in relationships.

We’ve discussed why we get involved in relationships and how we satisfy our intimacy needs through different types of relationships – alert the presses, it’s not a one-size-fits-all model. You might have a great relationship with your kids but you don’t necessarily have a heart-to-heart talk with them about your most intimate secrets.

Today’s post will look at what could be a point of contention between women and men when it comes to creating intimacy within relationship. Keep in mind that we’re delving into generalizations (albeit those drawn from research) and any discussion of behaviours or attitudes that leaps the gender divide can be tricky.

Guenette photo

We used to think women were better at intimate relationships because our yardstick to measure intimacy was how much disclosure of personal information occurred.

For all the women out there – think back to the last time you had one of those uber-rewarding, bare-your-soul to your BFF session. It’s a relatively common experience for women and because it is common, we might imagine that this type of experience defines intimacy.

Here’s another of those alert the press moments. Men don’t necessarily come at creating bonds of intimacy from that particular angle. Practical help is often the measure of closeness for many men. Guys get together and do things. They play sports, fix cars, build fences, or work on projects of mutual interest together.

For many men, intimacy in relationship is about doing things for and with the other person, it isn’t about telling each other stuff.

The Saying What Matters lady hopes to tease two important points out of this discussion.

1. Women – if you believe the only real measure of intimacy is getting him to talk about his feelings then you’re going to miss the times he’s sincerely expressing intimacy by doings things for you. You want to talk and he wants to fix your leaky faucet. Think about it – could it be two ways of coming at the same goal?

2. Men – when she says let’s talk, don’t run out of the room with your hands over your ears while singing, la-la-la. She isn’t trying to trap you or dig words out of your head with an ice pick. She wants to be close to you.

google image - seperti

Let’s get curious about our own relationships. If emotional expression isn’t the only way to develop intimate relationships, we need to ask ourselves a few of questions.

Are we trying to squeeze intimacy into a one-size-fits-all model?

Could thinking about the different ways in which men and women approach this important dimension of relationship be helpful?

How do we work for balance between these gender-based approaches?

google image - we need to talk

In the next post we’re going to take a closer look at self-disclosure and examine a model that can help us determine what to tell to whom.

Posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Relationship, Self Help, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Working at Simplicity

The Saying What Matters lady has been very quiet of late and I know I promised some more on relationship – posts are in the works. For now – please accept this small offering from over on Disappearing in Plain Sight that speaks of simplicity and recovery from illness.

disappearinginplainsight

Fran - Kootenay Lake Ferry - Witzel photo

I’m coming out of a dreadful few days of flu-like symptoms and a throat so sore I had to psych myself up to swallow. I’m still feeling as though I got hit by a bus with the body aches but I am up, dressed and back to writing today and that feels like a major accomplishment.

All that being said, days of being knocked flat tends to put me in a reflective state of mind. Have you ever noticed that when you are sick, the world becomes very small? The aches and pains and discomfort can consume one’s time and energy to the point that not much else matters. But there’s also a simplicity to it all. Every day pursuits must slip away as one focuses on the all-important task of getting better. Sipping a hot cup of tea becomes akin to winning a lottery. The taste of soothing, comfort…

View original post 277 more words

Posted in Communication | Leave a comment

Intimacy – The Glue that Holds it all Together

Ah, intimacy – caring, closeness, understanding, tenderness, affection and all that good stuff. Who doesn’t want in on such warm and fuzzy feelings? Close relationships involving intimacy aren’t just something we try to fit in when we have the time or inclination. Intimate relationships are essential components of our emotional well-being.

It can be useful to think of intimate relationships along four dimensions with varying degrees of intimacy within each dimension. Some relationships exhibit all four types of intimacy and others only one or two.

Let’s break this down . . . shall we?

The Physical Dimension

To be clear – we are talking about far more than sexual intimacy, though that can certainly be a part of things. From infancy, physical intimacy is vital to healthy development across a spectrum of measures – physical, mental, and emotional. We need to be touched by significant others as we grow and the physical dimension of intimacy continues to be necessary across the lifespan. We need that pat on the back, the comforting hug, someone reaching out to squeeze our hand when the going is tough.

Matthew holding EmmaYears ago, the plight of the Romanian orphans was a big story. I remember the news coverage of row upon row of cribs with small children of varying ages staring out. Many were adopted by families from other countries. Subsequent research showed that the children who had spent crucial developmental periods of their young lives in the orphanages displayed a variety of developmental and learning issues. The lack of physical touch at crucial periods of brain development may have been responsible for these outcomes.

Faithful friend - the dog

Leonardo the cat - Guenette photo

Pets can also play a vital role in the giving and receiving of physical touch. Many people who live alone attribute their upbeat attitude to a valued pet. Research shows that therapy dogs are useful in elderly care facilities. These dogs can also provide help for people who suffer from traumatic issues. Prisons that have had programs where violent offenders were permitted to work with farm animals showed a reduction in these prisoners’ violent tendencies.

The Intellectual Dimension

Coffee shop - google imagesWhen we engage with others over important ideas we can create intimate bonds. Do you remember that stimulating conversation you had with a friend over coffee recently – maybe it was all about the latest news headline, or a topic in a class you’ve been taking or an important point you picked up from a book you’d been reading. Sparks might have flown but if all went well you walked away feeling closer to that person. We all need people in our lives who will stimulate us intellectually.

The Emotional Dimension

Mother and daughter

When we share out feelings with another person we quite literally open ourselves to that person. It is as if we are saying – come on in and make yourself at home in my inner world where I’m vulnerable. There’s always a risk we’ll choose to invite the wrong people in, but we take the chance because when we share our deepest emotions we are building mutually beneficial support networks. And sometimes it is in the sharing of our emotions that we clarify for ourselves what we really do feel. Many of us have had the experience where half way through a sentence spoken out loud to someone close, we have stopped and said something like this – no, that wasn’t it at all. I wasn’t angry, I was scared. I was really so scared I couldn’t think straight.

The sharing of emotions can come about in face to face encounters but it can also occur over the phone, through letters, emails, texts and, more and more, through various social media sites.

The Shared Activity Dimension

We gather with others to help clean a friend’s home before he/she returns from a stay in the hospital, we drop by a friend’s house and end up helping them make pirogues, paint a fence, or assemble a kid’s new swing set, we work side by side with a partner in the garden, or maybe we stand, night after night doing the dishes together.

Washing dishes together old school - google images

I know this activity has almost been lost with the advent of dishwashers and families not eating together every night, but I have warm memories of the times spent cleaning up after supper with family members. (Well, maybe not as far back as the above photo.) Whenever we gather with another person or group of people with the intention of completing a task, we are building bonds of intimacy.

Okay, lots to think about. Get curious – can you name a relationship in your life that spans all four dimensions of intimacy? Do you tend to keep certain dimensions of intimacy in boxes that are only opened by certain people? Which dimension do you struggle with? Which dimension of intimacy is the easiest for you? Are there other dimensions of intimacy that come to mind?

Next time we’ll take a look at how intimacy seems to look different from the xx or xy side of things – not quadratic equations my friends but the male or female take on things. We’ll also delve a bit into cultural aspects of intimacy. It should be interesting.

Quebec City - Street Scene - Witzel photo

 

Posted in Communication skills, Mental health, Photography, Relationship | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Why do we bother with relationships?

Dancing at the Courtyard - Guenette

The next few posts will deal with effective communication within relationships. Before we get to the how-to of such a major task, it’s helpful to think about why we bother with relationships at all. Talk about a loaded question. The Saying What Matters Lady knows how to ask them.

The two main reasons we enter into and stay in relationships are attraction and intimacy. No big surprise there – a force pulls us into a relationship and we stay because we require intimacy with another to maintain good mental health. This is a survival imperative.

Today’s post will look at the issue of attraction. We’ll see that the attraction knife cuts both ways.

Similarity or complementarity

There is a strong tendency to enter into relationships with people who are like us. It makes the whole relationship building process much easier. Think about the number of shortcuts we can take in terms of communicating when the other person shares a common set of experiences and knowledge. The similarity has to be in areas that matter, though. Merely crying the blues together about work woes or the latest failure of a beloved sports team might not be enough for the long haul.

Rocky - google imagesOn the other hand, differences can strengthen relationships when they are complementary – the differences in each satisfy the needs of the other. Remember that scene from Rocky when Sylvester Stallone defends his relationship with Adrian by saying they both have gaps but as a couple, those gaps fit together.

A successful relationship will often have a balance of similarity and complementarity.

 

Reciprocal Attraction

Stanford Campus - WitzelWe tend to like people who like us. Makes sense – right? This can be especially strong in the early stages of a relationship. People who like us bolster our self-esteem and strengthen our self-concept about being likable. That kind of positive affirmation definitely puts the rose-coloured glasses on when we think about hanging out with someone.

Problems can occur when we come to suspect that the liking might be phoney. If we decide the other person has an agenda, the rosy glasses turn decidedly dark. No one wants to be used and we usually have pretty good radar for that type of thing.

It can also be challenging when the approval dished out by another doesn’t fit with our self-concept. If we feel unlikable, it’s hard to accept or believe that another person likes us. In these cases, we are apt to be suspicious.

Competence

Audrey Hepburn quote

We like to hang out with talented people. Maybe we think their skill will rub off on us. Maybe it’s because we like to bathe in reflected glory.

But we get uncomfortable if people are too talented. No one wants to be shown-up all the time. We really like people with some talent and some visible flaws. We are able to identify – these people are not perfect, they are like us.

Being good at what you do but willing to admit your mistakes is a sure fire way to be attractive to others.

Disclosure

Too much information - cartoon bank, google images

The ability to share details about ourselves with another person helps build a relationship. This is a major way in which we display trust and regard for the other person. Disclosure helps highlight the similarities and complementarities between people.

But disclosure can also be a problem. Poor timing or choice of topic can turn people off. We’ve probably all been in a situation where another person discloses way too much information, way too soon – that uncomfortable, didn’t-need-to-know-that moment.

We tend to like those who match us in the content and intensity of their disclosures.

Proximity

We are likely to develop intimacy with those we spend the most time with – seems a bit simplistic but it makes sense. If you ended up in a relationship with someone you went to school with or worked with, then you know what I mean.

On the other hand, familiarity can breed contempt.

Couple at a bar - google images

It’s interesting that in every situation that has the power to pull us into relationship there is also the potential to be rubbed the wrong way. Life does get complicated, doesn’t it? The Saying What Matters Lady advises curiosity. Why are you in the relationships you’re in. Have any of the above factors played a role? How about the flip side of what drew you into relationship – have you felt that tug between an attracting force and its counterforce?

Next time we’ll take a look at the intimacy needs that point us in the direction of relationships.

Posted in Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Photography, Quotes, Self Help | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guidelines for Active and Effective Listening

The last few posts have focused on the challenges we face when it comes to effective listening. So many things can get in the way. Today we zero in on six steps for being actively involved as a listener. Master all six and the Saying What Matters Lady awards you a gold star!

Talk less

If you really want to understand what another person is saying then resist the urge to stage hog, interject your own ideas, advice, and random thoughts. As the old saying goes – you have two ears and only one mouth for a reason. You’re supposed to listen more.

Get rid of distractions

This includes distractions that are both external and internal. If something is worth doing (like listening – newsflash – it definitely is!) then it is worthwhile doing right. Set yourself up to succeed. Turn off that TV blaring in the background, clear your mind of thoughts of what you’ll have for dinner. Listen. 

IMG_3742

Don’t judge

Your job is to listen not evaluate. Sounds easy but, boy-oh-boy, do we struggle with this one. Put aside the habit of listening only for evidence to convict. Put away your gavel and hanging rope. Okay – that’s a bit harsh. Sometimes we evaluate and judge because it helps with problem-solving. But the starting point of listening is not to solve the other person’s problem. Listening is simply that – listening. Don’t assume you are being asked to do anything else.

Look for the key ideas

P1100582

Be patient. I’ve been visiting with my granddaughters the last couple of weeks. I listen listen to the almost-three-year-old talk. She has started to stutter when she gets excited or frustrated. She simply can’t get her words out fast enough. I can tell by the look on her little face that she thinks she has only a limited amount of time to express herself. I sit down with her and pay complete attention to what she is saying in the hope that she will be reassured that she will be given enough time to speak.

People need time to express themselves. Don’t get side-tracked by peripheral information. Many a speaker will wander down a few roads before getting to the proper exit ramp. No need to worry. Stay focused on what seems to be the key points and the rest will fall into place.

Ask only open-ended questions

No closed questions, counterfeit questions, questions that seek to trap or have a hidden agenda, questions that make a statement instead of wanting any additional information, questions with only one right answer and that answer is yours, questions based on unchecked assumptions. You get the idea.

Sincere questions represent requests for new information that will clarify key ideas. Open-ended questions don’t shut down a conversation – they open it up. A good rule of thumb is this – an open-ended question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

33

Paraphrase

This is the active listening part. A paraphrase is the listener’s attempt to restate, in his or her own words, what has been heard.  The listener might offer an example that will reflect the underlying theme of the conversation.

Now, listeners – don’t worry. You don’t have to be completely right-on with every paraphrase or example. The very fact that you try to get closer to understanding gives the other person an opportunity to clarify.

Well – there you have it – six straight-forward ways to improve your listening skills. Not easy but any means but doable. Give them a try. What have you got to lose? Not your marbles, surely?

marble game

Posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Grandparenting, Mental health, Photography, Self Help, Teaching | Tagged | Leave a comment

Reaching out with Kindness

Kind words echo forever

What do you think, folks? The Saying What Matters Lady believes the above statement to be true. Since this is a blog about improving our communication skills, it makes sense to stop and think about how our words echo down through time.

I recently heard this idea put another way – pennies in a jar. Whatever kindness you can pay forward is just pennies in a jar for later. What comes around, goes around. Karma and all that jazz.

Wherever you find yourself today, whatever the situation – choose a kind word. It may echo further than you can ever imagine. 

Statue in Orleans, Ottawa

Posted in Communication, Counselling, Mental health, Parenting, Quotes, Self Help, Teaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment