Header Graphic
Lawrence E. Kincade, Ph.D., LCSW > Effective Communication and Listening Techniques

  • Give up the need to be right:  When you engage in discussions, make sure your goal is not to convince the other person that you are "right."  This is a no-win approach, because the other person feels just as "right."  Remember, this is not a competition!
  • First seek to understand, then be understood:  Effective listening is the best tool you have.  Filter out the other person's style of delivery, and focus on content.  Listen for understanding first, communicate that understanding, and then you can work on being understood.  Once someone feels that you are truly listening, they get the "psychological air time" they've been vying for and they may then be in a better frame of mind to hear what you have to say.
  • Don't become defensive:  This is one of those behaviors that tends to be an automatic response to someone who acts difficult, but acting defensively only creates more communication roadblocks.  To avoid acting defensively, you will need to focus away from yourself and on the other person.  Concentrate on absorbing what they are saying, even if it is communicated inappropriately.
  • Listen for some truth in what they say:  Chances are, unless you are dealing with someone who is completely irrational or non-reality based, something they say is likely to make sense to you - even if the way they say it may not be acceptable.  Grab onto that tidbit of information, acknowledge that you agree with them on that and watch the conversation switch gears.
  • Paraphrase the issue from their point of view and ask for clarification:  Once you think you may have an idea of what their point of view is, ask for clarification to make sure you are on track.  Many times we assume we know what the other person wants or needs only to find out that we were "off course."  Remember that we are filtering what people say to us through our own perceptions, and this skews the information we receive.
  • Use "I" statements:  Starting a sentence with "You" can be a communication-stopper.  When you use "I" statements, you are relaying your own thoughts or feelings, which is difficult for someone to refute.  Trying to tell someone how they are thinking or feeling makes people feel a need to defend themselves, and the conversation is likely to go "off-course" from that point.  An "I" statement might go something like this:  "I feel torn when you talk to me when I'm on the phone.  I want to respond to what you need, but I don't want to be rude to the customer.  It would really help me if you would wait until I'm off the phone to ask me a question."
  • Ask for additional information if needed:  Get more information if you still are not sure what they mean.  This can be a tricky point in any communication, because this is when frustration may occur and you may be more likely to engage in non-productive behaviors.
  • Explore options:  Once you are clear on what the issues are, brainstorm options.  Don't worry yet about which ones will work - at this point you just want to have some choices.
  • Look for workable, realistic options; recognizing that compromise may be necessary:  Now you are ready to look at each option you brainstormed and see which ones are viable.  Remember that compromising means that each person gets a little bit of what they want, but not the whole package.  Be willing to give up on some things in an effort to solve the bigger problem.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver, but honor your agreements:  Make agreements you can keep, but don't over-extend yourself or you will create more resentment.
  • Take a "time out" if necessary:  If at any point in the process the discussion takes a non-productive turn, take a time out.  Make sure to set a time to come back and revisit the issue so that it doesn't remain a source of tension.