There are many variations of active listening available on the internet. Over the next few days I am going to take you through the eight strategies used successfully world-wide by those involved in crisis negotiations.
In difficult communications, for example when someone is yelling at you or is sad, gaining empathy then establishing a rapport is a great way to give you an understanding of what the person is feeling and enables you to move forward much sooner. (I will examine empathy and rapport later in this series). So how do we do this when their emotions are running hot?
The secret is to never let an emotion go without acknowledging it in some way. This disarms the emotion and allows the person to move forward. The way it is taught in crisis intervention is to say "You sound ...." and then describe the emotion. For example, you would say "You sound angry" to a person who is yelling or "You sound sad" to someone who is crying. While this works in crisis situations it is too extreme for everyday communications.
Phrases such as “This sounds important to you, I can hear that”, “you sound angered by this”, or “I can hear that you are frustrated” are good emotion labels for angry people. Often when someone tells us about a tragic event we immediately say “I’m sorry for your loss”. This works however when we use the word sorry it impacts on us personally, sorry is a personal word. It might be better to say “I can’t imagine what that is like” or “Would you like to take a minute” or perhaps “How can I make this easier for you?” You are still acknowledging the emotion (sadness) but keeping it at arms-length.
By following these statements with “Please take your time” will indirectly provide them with support and the person will usually take a breath. Don’t worry if you don’t get the emotion correct, the person will soon tell you. They might say "Angry, you have no idea", or "I'm not angry, I am just damn well frustrated". You would reply "Tell me more about what happened" for the angry people or "Let's get this sorted quickly for you" to the sad.
Remember that it is all about them, not you. Focus on their needs first and your reward will follow.
Tomorrow we will look at paraphrasing.