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Wellness Tips » Communication Skills

Communication between persons can be broken down into three very simple steps. These steps include:
  1. Listening
  2. Reflecting
  3. Validating

The process of LISTENING requires us only to "listen." Listening is a process that requires us to track what someone is saying so that we can reflect back their thoughts and feelings as a way to assure them, and ourselves, that what has been expressed has been heard and understood.

Often, instead of listening we try to defend ourselves or our point of view. Many people mistakenly believe that if they do not agree with someone, they cannot listen to them or accept their perspective. It is important to remember that when you are listening, your job is to hear and try to understand what the other person is saying. However, just because you hear and accept them does not necessarily mean you agree with them.

There are a few techniques that can help us be convincing, active listeners. The first is SILENT LISTENING. The silent listener does all their work with body language. A nod of the head, extended eye contact, or a simple smile can send a strong message that we are not only listening, but also actually interested.

Body language can also send a strong negative message, so make sure that what your body is "saying" is supportive. A person is much less likely to let you know what is going on for him or her if you are sitting in a far away chair with your arms folded and a snarl on your face. Remember that if what you are saying ("let's talk, sure we can discuss this") is different from your body language (closed posture, frown), most people will respond to your body language.

You can use supportive non-verbals to get someone to continue talking. SUPPORTIVE LISTENING sends the message VERBALLY that silent listening sends with body language. Examples of supportive listening are saying, "Is that right," "I see what you mean" or "You're kidding." The comments are short and encourage the other person to tell you more.

PROMPTIVE LISTENING is a technique that sends the message,I hear you and I want to understand you." Promptive listening is an effort to "prompt" someone to continue talking. Examples include: "What happened next" and "What's the matter."

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REFLECTING is a technique that can save us a lot of time and headaches. When we reflect, we are taking time to summarize what we have just heard in an effort to make sure we heard it correctly. Often we spend a lot of time arguing about, or trying to fix things that weren't even a problem to begin with.

Repeating what someone has said ensures we don't bark up the wrong tree and assures that we are hearing what they are saying. This step is especially important when you are dealing with sensitive or difficult topics because we may read into what the other person is saying based on our own feelings. We may also stop listening to the other person because we are so busy trying to figure out how we are going to defend ourselves.

Remember that when you reflect, you are not giving your opinion about what they are saying; you are summarizing to make sure you heard what they said. An example of reflecting would be "I heard you say you were angry with me because I didn't call when I was going to be late and you were worried. You wondered if something had happened. Is that right?" This may or may not be the message the other person was trying to convey; however, if you reflect this back, he or she will get a chance to clarify it.

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VALIDATION, another very useful technique, is the most difficult to do, and certainly can't be done properly if we haven't REALLY heard what the other person is saying. Validation is an attempt to let the other person know that you can accept, and are empathetic with, what they have expressed.

There are three levels of validation.

Level 1 is when we have listened to what the other person is saying and we can totally agree with them. We might say something like "you're absolutely right!" or "I couldn't agree with you more!" This isn't as easy as it sounds because often the other person is expressing feelings about what we are or are not doing that is problematic. Listening with the intent to agree is different than shutting down the minute we hear what we might label as criticism.

Feelings are only feelings; they are not necessarily the "ultimate truth"; after all, how can you argue with how a person feels? Expressing how we FEEL to the other person shouldn't be about who is right or who is wrong; after all, feelings are not right or wrong, they are just feelings. When you listen to the other person's expressions with this in mind, it's often much easier to hear and validate without becoming defensive or upset.

Level 2 validation is an attempt to find something that the other person said that you can agree with. This is why it's so important that we continue to listen, rather than shut down or try to figure out how we are going to "come back" at them when it is our turn to talk. For example, if your wife told you "You are a poor husband, terrible father, and a rotten friend!", you may be tempted to stop listening to her after the poor husband part instead of listening for something you might be able to agree with (validate).

Finding something you can agree with is the intent of Level 2. In the example above, you may not agree about the father and friend part, but might agree that you haven't been the best husband lately. This can be expressed by saying "You know you're right, I haven't been the most attentive husband the past few weeks." Often this simple concession (validation) can relieve enough tension that the other two criticisms are shelved. It can also help the other person get to the point where you can problem solve rather than point the finger.

Level 3 is a process we can use when we don't agree with any of the thoughts or ideas being expressed. Here we simply let the other person know that his or her feelings are obviously important and that we will give them the consideration they deserve. Sometimes stating, "I can see that this is something you feel strongly about" can help diffuse tension and anger. It does not say that you agree with him or her, but that you recognize the feelings and that they carry importance for you.

REMEMBER: You do not have to agree with someone to accept his or her perspective. Working to understand what they think and how they feel is validation in and of itself. You can't do this if you are worried about defending your own ideas about what is right or wrong.

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