How do you listen if someone is upset, annoyed and off-loading on you?

Listening is a much-lauded but greatly under-used skill – and not because we don’t know how to listen well.  

Instead, it’s that so easily fall into the trap of trying to ‘fix’ the situation rather than taking the time to let a person talk (and think it) through and in doing that, find their own way to sort the situation.

 

Video Transcript:

Hi, this is Mary Rafferty here and welcome to this short video on listening.
What I want to talk to you today about is listening in the context of a difficult conversation where somebody might be annoyed,  upset or angry. It might be with you, it might be with another person, but either way they’re coming to you to unload and unburden themselves.
The question is how do we listen in this kind of a conversation? So ‘listening’ is a really important skill and we’ve all heard the term ‘active listening’. But my experience is that a lot of us don’t listen very well and it’s actually a very under-used and underrated skill. That’s because we have a sense that when we’re listening we’re just sitting there nodding, not saying anything. We’re not really adding any value to the situation or to the conversation. We’re just letting the person go on. We wonder how is that helping solve the problem or get this situation dealt with so we can then move onto the next challenge we have to deal with.

So this brings us to the question, what actually is our role when somebody comes to us with a problem, what am I trying to do as the listener? And of course the problem is that for a lot of people, the default mode we go into, is that I have to fix this situation. So if somebody is talking to me and unpacking a problem, as the listener, what’s happening in my head are thoughts such as:

“Oh, I have to come up with a solution…I wonder if this is what they could do…that’s what they could do. Now how can I get them to do this, that, and the other.”

That means that a) my attention and energy is going to be going to what’s happening in my mind rather than what’s happening for them, and b) I’m going start to feel impatient and perhaps I’m going to want to push them very quickly onto the solution that I’ve come up with.
I’ve probably really not paid an awful lot of attention to the actual content of what they’re saying, other than to discern some facts so that, that can help me quickly come up with some sort of an optimal and speedy resolution to the situation for them.

So rather than us trying to fix the situation for that person, when we start to see that when somebody has a problem, it’s always intimately bound up with the noise in their own heads, the thinking, the feeling that’s going on for them. Nobody can actually solve the problem for somebody else.
They have to have to come to that place by themselves. And you know, we can persuade and advise and do all that stuff. But really people have to find their own way to, to work through this stuff in their own heads.

As a listener, then our role is to help them start to unpack and get some of what what’s going on inside their heads, get some of that out on the table. Because when they have unpacked that a little and when they’ve kind of verbalized and talked things through a bit, then they’re starting to have more clarity, more ideas. They’re starting to get their own  insights and ideas as to what they can do to fix the situation.
So when we’re listening from that space, listening to help the person to understand the situation for themselves, listening to empower the person to figure this out for themselves, then we’re going to be very different in how we listen to the person.

You know, we talk about active listening skills such as nodding and open body language reflecting back, nodding etc. When we’re listening from a space of trying to support a person think something through for themselves, then we’re going to be doing those things automatically because we will see the value in those.
We will see the value in making space and letting the person talk, helping them hear what they’ve just said, which is what we do when we reflect back what we have heard them say.
“So what you’re saying to me is you’re really annoyed about. Can you tell me more about what it is that really got to you there? Oh, okay. So what I’m hearing you say is that, you felt disrespected in the meeting last week with Jean, or you felt disrespected in the meeting last week with me. What was it about that? What, was happening there for you?
Can you say more about that? Oh, okay. So this is for you, is about not feeling valued or this for you is about your project not being accepted.”

So by listening from that place, we can be much more effective in helping to actually solve the problem for the person. We’re just going to be automatically more empathetic, more connected with the person. There’s a saying ‘people don’t care what you know until they know that you care’. So we’ll actually come across as more caring, more interested in them. And that in itself can give the impetus and the space for them to start to have the insights that help them figure out what they need to do or that help them communicate to you the part you might need to play in helping them sort the situation out.

To summarize then, the next time you’re in a situation where somebody is full of a story full of anxiety, full of fear, full of annoyance or irritation shift out of the ‘how do I fix this’ mode and the sense that ‘they are handing me the problem, I’ve got to sort it out’ and instead consider how you can be a catalyst here. How can you be a catalyst to help them see what they need to see so that they can take the next steps in this situation for them; or to help them communicate what’s going on inside their mind and the thinking and the feelings that are going on that you might need to understand so that you can play the part that you have to in helping sort the situation out.

I hope you found this video useful. I
If there’s someone else you think might find it helpful, please share it with them or share using the facebook or linkedin icons above.
If you’d like to find out more, check out my blog or download my free eBook here
Or if I can help in any way, please drop me an email at mary@consenusmediation.ie

Thanks for watching

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