A Transformative Ear

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

I’m heading home after just completing a two-day workshop, “Strategic Coaching,” for a group of high potential, mid-level leaders at a client company. Last night at dinner I described the work to a friend. She said “Andrea, I wish I had those ‘coaching’ tools you teach. Just about everyone I know is going through some kind of transition or trauma, and it would be helpful to know how to respond to them in some way that’s effective, versus hours of endless talk that goes nowhere. We all need these tools in everyday life.”

As I thought about her very valid request, I recalled one of the curiosities of human nature. We want to lean on friends and confidantes when times are tough, but we rarely accept advice. We love to ask, and then habitually respond with all of the reason the advice won’t work.

So how do you actually influence or transform situations, instead of engaging in hours-long or months-long conversations that eventually sap your very life force?  Here are a few suggestions.

Reframe intense emotions by reflecting them.

It doesn’t work to use logic or facts to “calm” a situation when the other person is agitated and expressing feelings, especially intense feelings. I use a tool called “reflecting,” to align first:

“I hear that you’re frustrated when …”

“I can see that you feel angry when …”

These statements allow the other person to feel heard, and thus more able to hear what you have to say next. It’s counter-productive to say “I understand.” You don’t, really.

You can follow with a transition question that will enable you to re-focus the conversation:

“Can we step back and look at the situation objectively?”

“Let’s think through some possible options.”

Acknowledge positive intent.

When something another person says seems illogical or outright wrong, resist the urge to contradict. It sets up a situation much like arm wrestling — the strongest person (or the loudest) eventually wins. Instead, look for the possible positive reason he or she might have for making the seemingly illogical  statement, then acknowledge it.

“You’re a talented and compassionate person with so much to give. Do you really want to quit?”

Acknowledge a differing point of view without agreeing.

You can build confidence in your counsel without agreeing with the other person’s position. Acknowledging another’s point of view does not mean you agree with it, but it goes a long way toward creating an open ear for alternate views.

“I get that you think the best approach is to quit. Are you open to hearing my view of the situation?”


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