Each time I say something, I want to be heard. Yet often I speak up in ways that make it really hard for the other person to hear me. Truly, why should you listen to me when I’m telling you what to do, or I’m complaining or I’m just going on and on without pause? I make it even harder when I judge, interpret, and evaluate – and doubly so when you are the subject of my analysis. Or my acting out my emotions. Or I’m just unclear.
What I want to do is to learn to express myself in ways that make it as easy as possible for you to really pay attention. With people I am close to this can significantly enhance the quality of those relationships.
I know for myself that 10 minutes with my wife telling what our thoughts and our feelings is deeply nourishing. When we miss this daily practice, I always feel less connected, more tense and the stuff of everyday life builds up and weighs on me. I also have a handful of close friends with whom I regularly speak just to hear each other. Speaking up and being heard builds an intimacy that allows me to deeply connect with myself and the other.
On the other hand, there are times when something needs to be resolved. Here I also want to be able to communicate in a way that is as easy as possible for the other to hear me. Only then can we get a resolution.
Of course, the other person has some responsibility in the listening – ideally, they will keep attention on me and do their best to understand. For my part I’m responsible for taking care of what I say and how I say it, as well as giving space for the other to respond.
Here are 6 tips for making it easier for someone to hear you:
1. KISS (Keep It Short and Simple)
You may be familiar with this acronym, but do you always apply it? Keeping statements as short as possible gives the other person the possibility to take in your words. Being heard is not only about hearing the words you said but also giving time to process and respond. Keeping it short makes sense if you are providing information, saying ‘thank you’ or telling something difficult and painful. People just can’t cope with a word dump.
2. Dancing with 40 Words
One of my teachers advised keeping statements to a maximum of 40 words. While this is not intended as a rule it points to the art of conversation as a dance. You make one point in as few words as possible then ask for a reaction. If they can keep that short, then you can respond with your next thought. And so on. A dance of words and connection, building on what you both say and getting closer and closer in mutual understanding.
3. Find the Essence
Avoid wrapping many words around the core of what you want to say. It is far more engaging when you can express the essence of what is on your mind or in your heart. And choose the words carefully. Generally, hearing what you notice (observations) is easier than when you judge or interpret. Hearing what you would like is easier than hearing what you miss. Hearing what is in your heart is more connecting than what your think. And who can really listen to someone’s ego and arrogance?
4. Take Your Time
There is rarely a moment when you must deal with everything in one conversation. If the topic is potentially heated, then an occasional pause allows you both to reflect and stay calm. Giving space allows strong emotions to be handled and communicated and avoids suppression (when they usually resurface in less helpful ways). If one of you is angry, then this tells you that something important is going on. And there is always tomorrow.
5. Stick to the Topic
When someone is really listening well, it can encourage you to bring up all kinds of unrelated stuff. These digressions may be important to you but can also derail the whole purpose of the conversation. Do your best to finish one topic before shifting to another. Multi-tasking doesn’t work well – even in conversations.
6. Connection Before All Else
Before anyone will listen, you need to establish connection. Launching into a complaint, no matter how well founded, rarely gets the other person into the mood to hear you out. The most connecting words are those that reveal how you see world, what you think about it, what you feel about it and why it matters to you. The most connecting type of listening is when you receive someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and essence. Dialogue can be a delightful process of discovery – when you choose connection before all else.