“Where did you get that idea from?!” Sound familiar? Often we feel like we go in circles with our conversations or we try to explain ourselves in a million different ways and the other person still doesn’t get the point.
Theology of The Body reminds us that the primary work of building the Kingdom of God involves building real communities of love between us and the people that share our life. Seeking to understand another person–especially when it’s difficult–is what allows communication to become communion. Really listening to each other is hard, but if loving another person means helping them become everything God created them to be, then we need to take the time to really listen to each other so that we know what each person needs to grow and flourish.
The more difficult a conversation is and the more important we feel it is to get our point across, the more important it is to listen to the other person’s needs, their concerns, their perception of what we’re saying, and the reasons they are having a hard time hearing us. Of course, all of this requires us to grow in virtue, such as self-control, respect, compassion, and love. That’s why cultivating a spirit of understanding isn’t just good for our relationships, it is a spiritual exercise that allows us to love each other as we love ourselves.
1. Say Less–The biggest mistake we make in trying to communicate with another person is that we say too much. This is especially true when we aren’t getting the response we were expecting from another person. We tend to think that if we just explain ourselves again, or offer more examples, or say it one more time, they’ll finally get where we’re coming from. In fact, in these situations, it’s better to say less. Instead of throwing more words at the other person in the hopes of being clearer, ask this simple question, “Can you tell me what you’re hearing me say?” Asking the other person to tell you what they are hearing you say will quickly clarify any confusion and help you and the other person get on the same page. People tend to run the things they hear through their own internal filters that end up distorting or confusing what we say. Don’t assume that your words are sinking in. Ask them to tell you what is coming across so that you can make sure that the message you are trying to send is the message that’s being received.
2. Make a Plan–Sometimes we think that if we’ve complained about something or vented our feelings about something that we’ve done a good job letting another person what we need. Complaining and venting is sometimes necessary to help us sort out all the noise in our heads, but it does nothing to solve a problem. Remember, the point of most important conversations should be figuring out what to do about a particular situation. Make sure you don’t leave a discussion until you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to do about the problem you’ve been discussing, who is going to do it, and when you’ll be getting back together to discuss what else might need to be done. If you do end a conversation after you’re done venting or complaining, you should assume that the problem will come back because you haven’t done anything to actually solve the problem. Complaining isn’t problem-solving. If something is worth talking about, it’s worth taking the time to make an actual plan for solving it. Don’t end a conversation until you know what you’re going to do differently moving forward, who is going to be responsible for what, and when you’re going to check back in to see how things are going.
3. Make Them A Partner–When you feel like another person is having a hard time hearing what you are saying, or doesn’t really want to listen, see if you can make them a partner and get them to buy-in by proposing their own solutions. Tell them, “Look, I’m just trying to do X. Obviously, you’re not crazy about the ideas I’m suggesting to make X happen. What ideas do you have for making X happen?” Don’t let the other person avoid addressing your actual need. If they propose something that falls short, acknowledge what’s good about their idea, but then explain why it doesn’t completely fit the bill. Then ask them again for an idea that actually would address the actual concern you’ve stated. If the conversation gets stuck or bogged down at this point, or if they keep trying to convince you that your concern is silly or not worth addressing, that’s a good indication that you probably need to get other people involved to help you solve the problem effectively. Invite another family member, a mentor, or a professional counselor to help you break through the impasse and develop solutions that will work for all concerned. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others to get the help you need to create deeper connection and understanding.
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