In the Face of Adversity

The importance of resilience

Being A Good Listener

Effective communication is one of the keys to building resilience.

Effective communication is one of the keys to building resilience and maintaining balance in your life.  Communication is the foundation upon which we build our lives.  It is the way in which we understand others and the way in which we attempt to get other people to understand and know us.  If we do not communicate clearly and directly with others, we will not understand and we will not be understood.

Many of the situations that we deal with on a daily basis are complicated.  Very few are black and white.  The other person usually has their side of things, their story, and their way of looking at things.  If we don't take time to really understand what they are saying or how they see things, we usually are not going to be very effective in dealing with them.  There are very few pat solutions that one can simply apply to a problem.  We need to understand what we are confronting, and the only way that we are going to do that is by effectively communicating with those around us.

Many of us use the skills that are effective in communicating in our work on a daily basis.  Some of us may refer to these skills as basic interviewing skills.  Unfortunately, many of us put these skills away when we leave work and do not apply them to the world outside of work.  In particular, we may not listen well.  We may be tired of listening.  We have been listening to people all day.  When we are tired or angry and upset, it is difficult to listen to someone with whom we are angry.  But if we are going to find a solution to the problems that we are dealing with, either at work or at home, we have to talk and we have to listen in order to find out what is happening and what we need to do about it.

Listening is an active process.  It does not mean simply sitting silent and staring at someone.  To be effective in understanding another's perspective and helping them through a difficult time, such as a diagnosis of cancer, you need to do things which show interest and genuine concern.  Here are four examples of things you can do to encourage other people to talk, especially in a crisis when people are upset and angry.

1. Use neutral expressions, such as "I see," "Go on," "I understand," "Yes."

2. Nod your head or smile. 

This lets people know that you are responsive to what they are saying.  It doesn't have to mean that you agree with what they are saying.

3. Try "echoing" or simply rephrasing what the person has said. 

For example:  You are talking with your best friend about his wife, and he says, "I feel, since the diagnosis, she's changed a lot."  You might say, "Changed?"  Avoid being the cross-examiner or fault-finder.  Don't focus on trivialities.  Keep the conversation focused.

4. Ask good questions of people. 

Unfortunately, people often don't know how to ask good questions.  When we are talking with someone, we need to ask open-ended questions that encourage them to talk.  For example, "What happened?" or "What are you going to do now?"  But very often we ask questions that have yes or no answers that don't encourage discussion or we ask people "why" questions. Unfortunately, when we ask "why" questions, we are often encouraging people to become defensive and to try to come up with some reason to justify their behavior.  The reality may be that they simply don't know why.  We could spend the rest of the evening talking about "why" when "why" really isn't that important and is not going to lead us to a solution to the problem.

Ron Breazeale, Ph.D., is the author of Duct Tape Isn’t Enough: Survival Skills for the 21st Century as well as the novel Reaching Home.

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