Talking to someone about a potentially emotional topic or giving feedback about a sensitive issue can be challenging. Effective communication means being able to convey your thoughts and the information you wish to convey, in such a manner that the other person receives the message and the meaning as you have intended. In a scenario when emotions can get in the way, it is even more important to ensure that you are skilled in listening, questioning and clarifying what you hear.
Good listening skills involve:
- Assuming this is a person that you are not particularly close to, keeping an arm’s length distance from the person is a rough gauge of the physical distance to keep. Avoid physical barriers unless you think the person is potentially aggressive. Leaning forward would give the person the feeling that you are genuinely interested to listen and avoid folding your arms. Keep eye contact when the person is talking but avoid staring too hard.
- Touching or holding the person may be acceptable in some cultures but not in others.
- Non-Verbal encouragement such as nodding, hand gestures and words such as ‘Uh-huh, yes, I see, I understand…’ helps to convey your concern and interest.
- When a person is very emotional it may be better to keep silent till the person has calmed down and is ready to engage. Often your quiet presence is enough.
- Too many questions can confuse or agitate a person who is emotional aroused.
- Excessive silence however, can come across as lacking interest.
- Use Pacing and Leading in equal amount.
- Pacing is when you agree with the person and stay on the same point
- Leading is when you disagree with the person and want to change the direction of the conversation.
Ask Questions appropriately:
There are three types of questions that we can ask:
- Closed ended question – Ask closed ended question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to clarify information, establish facts or when you need urgent direct reply.
- Open ended question – Ask ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘why’ questions to gather information.
- Multiple choice question – Ask questions with a choice of answer when the person is confused or undecided.
Use Mirroring to understand better:
Mirroring is a technique where you reflect the speaker’s words to seek clarification. It also provides opportunities to probe further as it encourages the person to think more about what was spoken and to elaborate on what was shared.
There are 3 mirroring techniques:
- Restatement – shows that you hear the person speaking and that you are concerned. You should only restate the term or phase that you wish to clarify
- Reflection of emotions – helps to build rapport, communicate empathy and encourage ventilation. This is about identifying your friends verbal or non-verbal cues by labeling the emotion of the other person. E.g “you seem angry”.
- Paraphrase – or summarizing what was said is a way to show validation, understanding, provide closure to communication or to alter behavior. Summarizing the main points that was shared can also provide an opportunity for you to challenge what was shared in a gentle manner.
Often when a person feels ‘listened to’ and sense that you are genuinely interested to understand the situation and problem, that person is more likely to be open to hear what you have to say.
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