In my last blog post I started off the topic of communication to improve your relationships by breaking down the skill of active listening. If you missed that post, you can catch up here.
Today I want to talk about the other side of the coin, getting yourself heard. Now that you know how to be there and really listen well to a partner or colleague, it’s time to make sure you are getting the same air time.
There are many reasons that being heard and understood properly is important, not least the fact that if you aren’t heard, resentment will grow. And there is nothing quite as corrosive as resentment in a relationship.
The simple truth is that it’s not only bad relationships that suffer from this – plenty of good people who are great together stumble here too. It’s just that words carry a lot of meaning, and sometimes that meaning is misunderstood. And of course as we are all increasingly busy and stressed, we have less time available to really pause, listen and think.
Because of this, things often go unsaid for far too long. So let’s talk about a few simple strategies to give yourself the best possible chance of being heard and understood.
Pick your moment wisely
When you have to tell your loved one something serious, or tell your boss that you are leaving the company for example, this sort of news needs to be given at the right time. Now that doesn’t mean you get to procrastinate on it for weeks. What I mean is set aside a window of time during the day for a proper, sitting down conversation, rather than just blurting it out.
As a coach, I could tell you some horror stories from clients of mine about dropping big news at an inappropriate time, and the emotional fallout that followed. But in the interest of client confidentiality, suffice to say, timing is crucial.
Consider the ripple effect of announcing big news to a person whom it will affect. They need space to process that news and accept the change. Make sure they have that space, and you will get a much better response.
Prime them for the conversation
Have you ever tried talking to your partner about something important, only to find yourself frustrated that they are half-watching the news and only half hearing you?
I know, it’s really annoying, but you can prevent this from occurring by simply putting yourself in their shoes. Psychological studies show that ‘task switching’ is demanding on your cognitive resources. So in English, what I’m saying is that suddenly going from TV watching mode to serious conversation mode, without warning, is a bit tough on the old noggin.
To remedy this, give your partner a chance to make the mental switch before you start unloading your news. For example, if they are watching TV, you could ask them to let you know when the show they are watching is finished because you need to talk to them.
The chances are they will be curious enough to pause the TV and give you their attention straight away. But importantly, they have switched to conversation mode and you have their attention.
Now you can speak and be heard.
Own your issues
Let’s take a classic couple scenario. You are bothered about something your partner does or doesn’t do around the house. You want to ask them to change that, without it turning into an argument.
The important thing is to own your issues, and not word the request as being all about something that they have done wrong.
It’s just very simple psychology. None of us like to be told off, especially not in the sacred space of our own homes, and so as soon as we feel accused of something our defences go up. Before you know it, there is a ‘tit for tat’ exchange going on about who last cleaned the bathroom and so on.
Let’s take a really simple example. Replace ‘about them’ sentences such as:
“You always leave the toilet seat up.”
“When did you last change the cat litter?”
“Make sure you pay the bills on time this month.”
Instead, change the focus of the sentence to yourself, for example:
“The toilet seat bugs me probably more than it should. Would you mind…”
“Do I need to change the cat litter, or have you done it this week?”
“I’m feeling anxious about our bills – are we on track?”
When you put the focus on your side of the issue, this prevents their defences going up. You are much more likely to get a helpful answer too!
This way, you can address exactly what you need to without feeling guilty for nagging. When you are able to ask for what you want, you aren’t experiencing bubbling resentment about it either. And this is one of the reasons that clearly communicating your needs is so important. The kind of resentment that can build in a relationship where there is little communication is quite avoidable, and so it’s such as shame when relationships break down for this reason.
As a bonus, when you start speaking more openly with your partner, friends, family and colleagues, they may follow suit. Then it becomes a much more comfortable two-way street, with no resentment bubbling away about unspoken issues on either side.
Being heard is so important for our happiness and our sense of security in life. It really is a skill worth working on.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please do leave me a comment below.