More often than not we are listening to respond. This method of communicating is almost always ineffective. Yes, we ultimately need to respond to what someone is saying but we also need to pay attention to what is actually being said rather than just what our response will be. If we are so focused on how we are going to respond the message from the other person gets lost in our own perceptions leading to defensiveness and ineffective communication.
Are you hearing or listening?
When you are talking to someone, do you listen to what they are truly saying or are you just hearing the words that are coming out of their mouth? Listening involves focused effort on understanding what the other person is trying to convey by both their words and their body. If you are simply focused on hearing the message you will miss it. Listening requires attention and care while hearing can be done by any passerby. When you are working to communicate effectively with someone focus on what they are actually saying, the inflection, the tone, and how their body moves. All of this combined creates a stronger message that just the noise they happen to be making.
Interpreting What You Hear
In conversation how often do you focus on what the other person is actually saying versus what you hear in your head? We tend to hear what other people say through the lens of our own experiences and how situations like the one you are in tend to go. Whenever you can, remove the lens of historical experience and really listen to what the other person is sharing. This will decrease the likelihood of miscommunication and escalated emotions on both sides.
Feel What Was Said
Once you have removed your historical context filter and really taken in what the other person is saying give yourself time to understand how you feel about what was really said. Just because we are focused on listening and have worked to remove perceptions on communication does not mean that the communication exchange will be free of emotion. While a lot of communication is generally neutral the majority of it carries an emotional charge. Give yourself permission to understand the emotions that come up before you respond.
Give Yourself Time to Respond
One of my favorite communication tips is to count to five before you respond to anything. This five second buffer gives you the opportunity to really focus on what the other person is saying without feeling like you need to formulate an immediate response. It also give you a specified time to assess how you want to respond based on the emotional charge of the conversation, your emotions, and what was actually said. Also, if you need to take more than 5 seconds, TAKE IT! That is just a starting point to give you permission to slow down and respond in a way that feels best for you.
It’s OK to Pause a Conversation
Finally, if 5, 10, 15 seconds is not long enough and you need more time to process what was said or to manage your emotions it is ok to pause the conversation. When you do this, you are showing that the conversation is important to you and you want to respond from your best self. When you pause, though, make sure you set rules about how to resume like who will reengage and a potential timeline of when that will happen.
Communication does not have to be hard or ugly or negative. As humans, communication is a primary way we develop and maintain connection with others. The more effectively we can manage it the better we will feel about it as we move forward in relationship.