Have you tried to reach an actual person on the phone lately? You know how it works. That automated voice tells us to push a number. Then push another. And if the voice says, ‘Push zero for a representative.’ it’s often a fake-out. We push zero and presto! Another menu. “Push one for…”
What if none of the choices are right? Too bad for us. We hang up, and start again, trying a different set of numbers. It’s a recipe for frustration.
One day I was trying to reach an insurance company. They kept sending expensive-looking advertising mailers to my house. But they were addressed to a deceased former owner. I was pretty sure he didn’t need ‘additional insurance’, no matter the price. I thought perhaps they’d like to take him off their mailing list, and save a little money.
After ten minutes of going down different rabbit holes, even trying the famous ‘keep pushing zero’ tip, I chose ‘insurance policy’. Surely that would get me to an actual person. Nope. The automated voice instructed me to ‘key in the number of the insurance policy’.
At this point, I had hit maximum frustration. I was trying to do this company a small favor. But I’d just spent ten minutes of my life on the phone with those non-responsive robotic voices. I decided to hang up before I started yelling at the phone and scaring my dog. It took a while to calm down.
About an hour later, it hit me why I was so frustrated and angry. I was trying to communicate to ‘someone’ with lousy listening skills. If someone isn’t listening when we’re talking, it’s like they said, ‘You are not important enough for me to listen to. I don’t care about what you have to say.’ Ouch! That’s a painful smack-down for sure.
This is even true if it’s just that automated recording that’s not listening. Have you noticed how upset we can become? We may never want to deal with that company again.
But what if it’s a person-to-person conversation with a friend or loved one who is using poor listening skills? Then what might have been a good problem-solving discussion often quickly escalates instead into frustration, and then anger.
Many complex conversations go like this: They say something. We respond with our ideas, answer or opinions. They don’t think we heard them, so they repeat what they just said. We get irritated and give our same answer again. And it goes downhill from there.
Why does this happen?
Here’s the issue: They can’t read our mind. When we respond immediately with our own ideas, they don’t know that we heard their ideas. We are like two TV sets facing each other. Lots of talking. No communication.
So what do we do instead?
Avoid jumping in right away with our own ideas when they stop talking. First, pick out a key idea or two they just said. Then, paraphrase. You say the key idea back to them in your own words, using a calm tone of voice. “So if we can reduce our eating out budget, we could put that money toward our summer vacation. That has potential.” Watch their head nod in agreement – that’s what they said. You nailed it.
Amazingly easy. One caution here: Do not repeat what they said word for word. Remember how angry that made you when your siblings did that? “I see a horse.” “I see a horse.” “Stop repeating what I said.” “Stop repeating what I said.” So don’t do that.
After paraphrasing what they said, then you share your idea. “One concern I have is that sometimes we work so late that eating out is much easier than cooking. What could we do about that?” And there starts a great problem-solving discussion that could lead to creative solutions, like freeze-ahead dinners made on the weekend.
Paraphrasing the other person’s main ideas has some great benefits:
First, if we misunderstood, they have a chance to clarify. Saves a lot of unnecessary ‘heading off down the wrong path’ conversations.
Second, sometimes when they hear their idea out loud, they might decide they don’t think it’s the best thing after all. (This happens to me. It sounds great in my head, but….)
Third, they know we have truly focused on hearing what they are saying. And that does fantastic things for our relationship. By actively listening, we have told them they are important, and worth listening to.
Good listening skills help build stronger relationships. And all we need to do is take the time to show them we are listening. “Push 7 for a good listener.”