by Bernard Uzi Weingarten
Ever wonder how to really help somebody when they come to you for advice? This story of a conversation I had with Sam, a long-time friend, illustrates one of the important keys of skillful, effective communication.
Sam was telling me about his strained relationship with his brothers. “They keep me at a distance,” he said. “And when we do speak, they usually criticize me. I’ve tried to resolve this for many years and I don’t know what else to do. Please help me come to peace with not having close relationship with them.”
It is very tempting in a situation like this to respond with advice. After all, Sam not only asked for advice, he even explained exactly what kind of help he wants.
The first step of skillful communication, however, is ‘Listen First’. And one of the principles of ‘Listen First’ is that the full story does not always emerge in the first round. Especially when people and relationships (and therefore emotions) are involved, it is often only in the second and third round that key points emerge.
It is therefore vital in such situation not only to Listen First but also to Acknowledge. And that is the way I responded to Sam. I reflected back what I imagined his feelings, needs and experiences were, and listened as he, in turn, responded.
At one point Sam said that he often offered to share activities with his siblings, but they always turned him down. This caught my attention, since people usually have underlying reasons for how they act. I asked Sam if there was a reason they are afraid to spend time with him. I specifically inquired if he had voiced criticism of them and their lifestyles.
Sam sighed and said that indeed in his heart he has strong judgments about his siblings. He sees them as materialistic and non-spiritual. And while he rarely expressed these thoughts to them, the judgments were in his heart.
It was evident to me that this was the key to the story. Sam’s brothers sensed his negative thoughts about them, and were afraid of being criticized, and so they kept him at a distance.
As soon as Sam realized this, he knew the solution. He could have a close relationship with his siblings, provided he let go of his judgments and replace them with respect and understanding.
I met Sam again some months later and he was beaming. His relationship with his siblings was better than ever. They had begun inviting him to spend time with them and he told me how much he was enjoying it. I congratulated Sam and shared his joy.
This is a powerful illustration of how important ‘Listen First’ is to effective, skillful communication. Yes, Sam asked for advice, and he even had a clear idea of the advice he wanted. But it was ‘Listening First’ to Sam and ‘Acknowledging’, and not rushing to offer advice, that led to the discovery of the key insight, the one that opened the way for Sam to remove the barrier that separated him from his brothers and reconnect with them.
- When people share an issue with you, notice if you go into ‘listening mode’ or ‘advice mode’.
- Especially when emotions are involved, practice ‘listening and acknowledging’. Resist the temptation to give advice and feedback after the first round.
- Notice what happens when you do that. Does the issue appear one way initially, and different and deeper understandings emerge as you listen empathically?
© 2012 Bernard Uzi Weingarten
If you have found this article of value and want to explore these skills further and master them, I invite you to the first two sessions of my next Communicating Effectively With Compassion tele-course, FREE as my guest. Register at uziteaches.com