Communication Skills – 2 – Clarifying

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What we HEAR is not always what’s being said. What we SAY is not always what we mean. No wonder misunderstandings occur in our communication with people!

Quite often when we ‘hear’ what other people are saying we do so through our own insecurity, experiences, values, etc. This distorts what we’re hearing.

When we communicate with others, what we say is often not very clear. We use all kinds of routes around the subject rather than stating exactly what it is we mean. (It is possible to do this without engaging in confrontation!)

So – when someone is telling you something that’s important (to them) try repeating back to the person what you THINK they’ve said. This has three purposes; it let’s the other person know you’ve listened to what they’ve said; it lets you both know you have the same understanding about what has been said – or if there is a mis-understanding or mis-interpretation, you have the chance to correct it; it helps the other person to really hear it. Words or comments always sound different and have more impact when they are repeated to you (or said out loud to yourself) so it helps you to really hear the message.

Now let’s look at a scenario:

Person 1:

I’m so fed up with the arguments. There’s such an atmosphere – when you walk into the office you can cut it with a knife! I’ve started dreading going to work and on some mornings when I’m getting ready, I actually start feeling sick. She doesn’t seem to be affected by it at all but I just don’t enjoy my job any more.

Person 2:

So you’re finding it difficult to go to work because of this woman’s behaviour, and it sounds like you’re thinking about leaving?

Person 1:

No – that’s just it! I used to love my job and I still love the work. It’s just her that I’m finding difficult. What I want is for her to behave differently.

In this instance, while Person 1 seemed to be saying that she wanted to leave her job, in fact what she was saying that she wanted the situation in the office to change, so that she could once again enjoy her work.

The response by person 2 to these two situations would be quite different.

Sometimes the conversation is about something with which we are more directly affected, and this brings in even more emotional reactions.

Person 1: I know I don’t help much with the children but I’m at work all day. It’s such a rush in the mornings and by evening time I’m tired and there’s usually only about an hour before they go to bed. What you forget is that although my work isn’t physical it is very stressful! I usually spend part of the week-end doing jobs around the house or gardening and shopping with you, and I also play with the children as much as I can.

Person 2: So you don’t think my job looking after the children and the home is as difficult as yours and I shouldn’t complain?

Person 1: No – I’m not saying that, I think it is a difficult job which you do extremely well. What I’m trying to tell you is why I feel I can’t do much more.

Person 2: But you do think I’m being unfair to say you don’t spend enough time with the children?

While clarifying doesn’t actually sort out the problem, it does help to ensure that both parties have the same understanding about what the problem is. It also gives each the opportunity to agree or amend their understanding, and in this way enables them to move forward towards a resolution.

The difficulty is that when we hear something negative its human nature to take this as a criticism. This immediately puts us on the defensive and/or we start fighting back before really having a full understanding of the issue being presented to us.

Exercise:

When next someone is sharing something with you, or telling you how they feel about something, repeat it back (using your words not theirs) to ensure you’ve understood.

Note how sometimes you have misunderstood and try to work out why. For example, did you make an assumption? Did you put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think how you’d feel? Did you feel defensive?

Also note how sometimes the other person doesn’t express themselves clearly, perhaps because they’re not clear about what the real issue is.

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Source by Maddy Webster