Pause & Pay Attention
Tip #1: Pause; stop thinking about what you want to say in response and pay attention to nonverbal cues.
Pausing allows time for their message to sink in. It improves your ability to listen and understand what is being communicated. Pausing is extremely helpful when the conversation is tense or conflictual. When we feel listened to and understood, often the intensity drops, the tension shifts, and resolution is easier to attain.
Pausing is sometimes challenging for me. My mind runs at warp speed and I use words for a living! I have to consciously slow my brain down and listen… to the words, the message behind them, as well as what is not being said, plus pay attention to the nonverbal cues. As a counselor and coach, I have trained myself to pause, ponder, and intentionally focus my mind on all that is being communicated, not what I will say in response. (I don’t always do as this well with my family and friends, but I continue to practice!)
Stop thinking about what you want to say in response, especially when the conversation is difficult. When a friend or loved one comes to you with an issue that is bothering them, do everything in your power to pause and listen. Usually we offer a quick defense, explanation and/or a “well you did such and such” comeback. When we feel defensive or are itching to explain ourselves, we often check out of the conversation and begin to craft our retort. Our inner defense lawyer rears her head, and in minutes we have our opening argument ready to go.
Resist this natural tendency! Remember, they had the courage to come to you and share something difficult. Honor this by really listening and staying focused on their message. This is not the time to bring up a problem or struggle you may have with them. Have the guts to address your issue on a different day after their concerns are addressed.
Using this tip can reduce the number and volume of your arguments. (Or discussions as we called them when our kids were younger and overheard us. But I don’t think we fooled them a bit!)
Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal communication to gain a deeper understanding of their message. Far more is being communicated with tone, body language, and expressions.
Has your wife ever replied, “I’m fine!” in a frustrated, one octave higher tone of voice when you asked her, “How are you doing?” But… everything about her screamed, “Oh no, I’m not!” Her arms crossed as she glared at you with knitted brow and pursed lips… (not for kissing either!) Because you were paying attention, you realized she was really communicating: “You should read my mind and know that I am not fine, even though I said I am!” (Humorous, but it happens often.)
Paying attention to all the incoming data will help you discern the full message being communicated.
~M. Scott Peck
This is an excerpt from my #1 Amazon bestselling book Listen, Learn, Love: How to Dramatically Improve Your Relationships in 30 Days or Less!