Peeling Back The Layers In Communication

Sometimes when we speak with an emotional person (the angry or the sad) we have difficulty truly engaging with them. Often it stems from the fact that we haven't got to the to the real issue that is troubling the person. 

There are many ways of identifying the underlying issue, this is what worked for me as a crisis negotiator which can be used in everyday situations.

In emotional conversations we often hide what we really want to say, for a variety of reasons. A good way of digging into the person’s statements is to follow their lead be feeding off what they have just said.

An example – “I hate having to stand in a queue waiting for long periods just to be served”. Are they saying that they hate standing, hate queuing, or just want to be served without delay? Find out which it is by focussing on each part of their sentence starting with standing.

Say, “You hate standing?”, or “Standing is hard isn’t it?”, or “What don’t you like about standing?” Feed off what they say again until you have explored the ‘standing’ aspect then move to the word ‘queues’. Empathise by saying “Queues are annoying aren’t they?”

Another way of delving into the issue is termed ‘mirroring’ or sometimes termed ‘reflecting’. Use one or two of their words and phrase it as a question by putting inflection in the last word and leave a pause to await their reply – “Hate standing?” Another way of saying this is not quite as effective, you could say – “You mentioned that you hate standing, what is it about standing that you hate?”

A third way of getting to the bottom of the conversation is to label the emotion that sits in behind the statement. This is a very effective technique if used properly. Say something like – “Standing in a queue is frustrating isn’t it?”

You don’t have to get the emotion correct, if you get it wrong they will soon correct you. They might say – “It’s not frustrating, it’s damned annoying.” Bingo, they have acknowledged the underlying emotion and will most times open up to you about the actual issue.

Remember to use an effective pause as much as possible. We hate silence therefore will want to fill it with words. Let them fill the silence, we have two ears and one mouth so do twice as much listening as talking.

Just like peeling back an onion layer by layer to reach the centre, using one or a combination of the above will assist you getting to the real issue.