You don’t know what went wrong. You were talking to a friend or someone in your family or an acquaintance or someone at work, and you thought you were listening to what they were saying and making appropriate responses.
Well, you were listening. You could repeat what they were saying word for word, practically. And you showed you were listening by saying things that were relevant and to the point. But it just didn’t gel. The conversation died out, although you felt there was much more to be explored. It just seemed as if they didn’t want to explore the topic any further with you. What happened and what can you do about it?
This is an unsettling and frustrating situation for everyone involved. Both sides are left feeling dissatisfied and somehow let down.
When you are making a genuine attempt to communicate, it’s baffling and confusing when it doesn’t work as you hoped and you don’t understand why.
There could be many reasons for this kind of communication malfunction, and not all of them will be related to your input.
But the reason for the lack of connection could be found in the way that you respond to what you hear. We feel liking and warmth for people who not only seem to understand what we are saying, but who also give a response that validates us. We forge a connection with those who show they have taken in not just our words, but the subtext and emotional context of our communication.
If we get it wrong, and there is a mismatch between what we hear and how we respond, we put up a barrier. Not necessarily a huge one, or one that can’t be overcome, but we miss the opportunity to create the kind of understanding that draws people to each other.
We can get it wrong by:
a) Giving a practical response to an emotional message
When the main thrust of what someone says to you is formed by feelings, it’s a good idea to acknowledge and give some time to the emotional content of their communication. You can then move on to the nitty-gritty, if appropriate.
Your boss or a colleague says:
We’ve got the go-ahead for the new development — fantastic!
When do we start/who’s in charge of the budget/I hope it will be worth it.
That’s terrific/great news/worth all the hours we put in
Your Young Person says:
I’m really fed up with revising. I don’t seem to be getting anywhere.
Just keep going/shall I make you a timetable/it will be worth it.
It’s hard to keep going, isn’t it/you must feel a bit overwhelmed/you do sound fed up.
Your pal says:
I’m gutted. They promoted Jo instead of me.
It’s time you looked for another job, mate/ Is Jo the one you went to the conference with/ Better luck next time.
Oh no/I can’t believe that happened/you must be so hacked off
We can also get it wrong by:
b) Giving an emotional response to a practical message
When someone gives factual information or presents a situation with no indication that they want to explore how they feel about it, show that you understand and respect this by responding in the same tone and register. You can move on to the emotional context later, if appropriate.
Your colleague says:
Would you bring me a sandwich back? I’m staying on late to fine-tune tomorrow’s presentation.
Egg mayo all right?/ Do you need any more input from me before I leave tonight?
No wonder you get stressed/you must feel nervous about presenting to such difficult clients
Your pal says:
I’ve decided not to have a birthday party for my Big-O. I don’t want a huge fuss.
You’re in denial about getting older/is this because you’ve fallen out with your sister/you can’t not have a party!
OK/You’ve obviously thought about this/ Is there anything you’d like instead?
Getting the right register of response shows empathy, respect and understanding. It puts the other person first. You can’t not like someone who does that.