This is how to listen better with difficult people

Two people have made a bridge across a deep ravine and a third person is running across over their backs

You know how it is. You have been to training and you know that you are supposed to do. You are supposed to listen. You are supposed to be empathetic and develop a relationship. That is great in theory, but what about with a difficult person. All you want to do is share what you have on your mind. How can you learn to close your mouth and listen? It is logically easy enough to know you really should listen, but emotionally can you control yourself and learn to listen? In Peaceful Resolutions there is an entire chapter on de-escalation and a chapter on listening. That source provides a more in-depth commentary for your consideration. Here the focus is on when you need to go into a discussion with a difficult person. You really need to control your own temper and animal spirits and listen. You know that is what you should do. So what do you do? What you tell yourself really matters.

  1. Prepare

You need to calm yourself first. Rather than writing down what you want to say, list what you believe the other party wants to say. This will help you to be more empathic and to listen with a more open mind.

In our society we were taught how to argue, debate and to logically take on a conflict head on. However, if we really want to win by improving the relationship and working together more positively in the future, listening is the key.

 

Prepare a list out what you believe to be other side’s interests. Think of these economically, socially, and environmentally. Once you list out everything you can think of, convert the list to a list of open ended questions you will want to ask.

 

Prepare a list out what you believe to be other side’s interests. Think of these economically, socially, and environmentally. Once you list out everything you can think of, convert the list to a list of open ended questions you will want to ask.

Ask open-ended questions for open-ended answers. That is, questions that will require longer answers than a yes or no answer. Try to determine if there are multiple issues, what they are, how strongly the other side feels about the various issues, and their interests on each issue.

  1. Practice

As we know with any sport or activity, practice is necessary in order to improve performance. If listening actively, remaining calm and emotionally trying to understand the other person are not your strengths, practice these techniques.

 

Try and build an emotional relationship. In the end see if you can concisely summarize the key points even better than the other person.

 

First, practice staying focused on the problem and being soft on the person no matter how hard this is. Ask those open-ended questions in a clam, slow and reassuring voice. Refer to your notes on note cards if necessary. Paraphrase what you hear. Summarize what you hear. Try and summarize and be concise sharing what you heard in your words to demonstrate to the other party you really are listening. Take notes.

Ask additional open-ended questions so that you can drill deeper demonstrating empathy and carrying. Try and build an emotional relationship. In the end see if you can concisely summarize the key points even better than the other person.

  1. Perform

Reinforce what you have learned in the first two steps with another person that is not as difficult to work with on another issue. Consider this practice for the really difficult person. Indicate that you really don’t fully understand their perspective and use the techniques you were taught in the first two steps on this less difficult situation.

Given success in this less difficult situation, go over what worked and did not work as well. Give yourself feed forward on what you will do with your more difficult situation when you try this in that arena. Your goal is to understand the other person’s perspective. Keep asking questions until there is nothing left for you to learn. Summarize what you believe is your final summation of the party’s perspective and ask “do I understand your perspective?“ If the answer is yes you are there. If not, ask why not and ask more open-ended questions.

 

Reinforce what you have learned in the first two steps with another person that is not as difficult to work with on another issue. Consider this practice for the really difficult person. Indicate that you really don’t fully understand their perspective and use the techniques you were taught in the first two steps on this less difficult situation.

 

Realize this is a process. Don’t blame yourself or others. As with any activity repeated performances will enhance your abilities in the future. No one won a national championship in any sport the first time they ever tried to play the game. Give yourself a break and look for small wins. Give yourself a pat on the back and learn from your experiences.

Contact me to speak to your group or consult with you. Check out my website, books and content. I am an international speaker. I speak on how to overcome conflict with collaboration by taking advantage of the collaboration effect TM enhancing relationships, resources and revenues. My service areas are related to helping clients resolve conflict : business to IRS, business to business and within businesses. I have written 11 books including The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions. I may be contacted directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. [Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA; MBA]