The average person pays more attention to what she’s saying or thinking about than what she is hearing, or how her words are “landing” on the other person. This self-involvement gets worse during an argument. You can become a much more effective communicator by using “attentive speaking” a simple and highly effective technique that will help you pay attention to how well you’re communicating, whether it’s with your partner, your children, or extended family, or co-workers.
“How am I supposed to know what he (she) wants?” is probably the most worried about question in relationships. Most people don’t want to be rejected, criticized or otherwise get the results of guessing wrong about what someone else wants. Most of us want a “yes” answer when we ask a question, so we want to ask the right question, at the right time, from the right person. The trouble is, how are we supposed to know what’s right?
Since most of our interaction happens through conversation, here’s a relatively simple technique that you can use with great success anytime the results of your interaction with someone really count. I call it “attentive speaking”, and what it’s really about is paying attention and not guessing about what the other person is thinking. No matter when you’re talking to other members of your family, your children or your spouse, using attentive speaking will help you reach an agreement.
Guidelines for Attentive Speaking
Attentive speaking simply means paying attention, not only to what you are saying, but also to how your partner is receiving it. If you watch carefully when you want to get a point across, your partner’s facial expression, body movements, and posture all will provide clues (looking interested, fidgeting, looking bored, eyes wandering, attempting to interrupt, facial expressions of anger or confusion, or a blank, empty stare) to help you know whether you are being understood. By using the following steps, you can learn to observe your partner as he or she is listening to you, and see whether you are successfully communicating what you want your partner to hear, without any verbal communication from your partner. This is especially effective if your partner:
• is not very talkative;
• thinks disagreeing, or objecting will "hurt your feelings";
• is the unemotional, strong, silent type;
• is easily overwhelmed in a discussion; or
• is passive, depressed, or withdrawn.
Sometimes, such partners are reluctant to let you know if they have a negative reaction to what you are saying. If your partner is not receiving what you are saying as you intended, and you persist in talking without understanding your partner’s reaction, your partner could become more and more upset by what you are saying, stop listening, get very confused, mentally object or silently argue with you, or not want to be talked to at all. If you don’t use attentive speaking to see the clues, you can be chattering blithely along, and suddenly your partner will react with anger, misunderstand you or just not be interested in listening any more, and all your efforts to communicate are wasted. By using guidelines that follow, you can figure out when you aren’t communicating well or getting the reaction you want.
Using attentive speaking will help you:
• Avoid overwhelming your partner with too much information at once, (because you will notice when he or she looks overwhelmed, bored or distracted)
• Keep your partner’s interest in what you have to say, (by teaching you how to ask a question when you see your partner’s attention slipping away)
• Understand when what you say is misunderstood, (by observing facial expressions and noticing when they’re different than what you expect)
• Gauge your partner’s reaction when he or she doesn’t say anything (by facial expressions, body language and attentiveness)
• tell when your partner is too distracted, stressed or upset to really hear what you’re saying (by facial expressions, body language and attentiveness)
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