When you are ‘furious’ – be ‘curious’ – How to listen during a critical dialogue?

You never accept Pa.  You pick up an argument and stick to your guns without trying to understand what I am trying to tell you.  Just go and leave me alone”

I remember when I heard this for the first time from my son, my emotions were running wild.  I was hurt and he said he wanted to be left alone and didn’t want me to interfere.  I was angry as well.  How can he be so curt and not understand the concerns of a parent?  How can he take me so lightly?  I think this was spiraling out of control.


Almost all parents go through these emotions at some point in their life and I was no different.  In spite of your best intent, there are times when ‘the critical dialogue’ with a family member turns into an argument where your purpose changes from understanding to winning.  You hate to lose and begin to lose control of the conversation.  Simple matters escalate to include various other baggage which we might be carrying over the years of which the other doesn’t have a role to play.  It confuses, frustrates, angers and becomes emotionally draining.

So what do you do in such a situation?  “When you are ‘furious’ the best strategy is to become ‘curious’.

In an argument the most impacted is our ‘listening’.  We tend to turn every discussion into a battle and want to outwit each other without trying to understand each other’s point of view.  Many times I have observed as a facilitator when others argue almost furiously, they are actually saying the same thing or meaning the same, only that they seem to use different tone and statements.  In fact I am able to find a lot of points where both the parties seem to be in agreement.  Maybe even 90% with only 10% disagreement.  Have you found this happening?

I call this ‘furiously agreeing’ to each other.

The problem with this type of listening is that we are ‘listening as an adversary’ than a ‘buddy’.  When that happens the purpose of the discussion or argument turns to defend, contend with, resist or oppose’ and the attitude turns to ‘me Vs. you’.  The strategy then turns to ‘I have to make them feel wrong or point holes in their story or dominate the debate’ . We then start to judge, argue, interrupt, debate just to score a point.  The impact of such listening is ‘resentment’.  As my son, felt at that time.  He started to resent the idea of speaking to me as I somehow was not willing to or not showing any interest in listening to his point of view.

 I was worried.  I was the only one to whom he used to open out and talk and if this continued, he would lose an ally and start looking elsewhere for comfort.  I thought deep about what I could do?  Is there something which I can change in the way I  ‘listened’?

Listening you will agree suffers the most when you are engaged in a critical conversation with someone with whom you have a deep emotional connection.  These are the relationships we take for granted.  We do not much care to choose our words and actions wisely, thereby negatively impacting our communication.  We realize only when there is a breakdown and by that time it could be too late.

The best way to listen is by starting with the following questions in your mind.  What do I really want?  What is the best behavior I need to demonstrate to get the outcome I really want? How can I make it ‘safe’ for the other person to speak more?

Turn yourself into the ‘buddy’ mode of listening.  You would have experienced yourself that you are so comfortable talking to your best buddy.  Have you ever thought of the underlying reasons for that?  It’s because our best buds don’t judge us, they allow us to be who we are, they care for you, they are not in it to win-it.  More importantly they are ‘curious’ about you and your feelings.

So learn to ‘listen as a buddy’.  Let’s look at the steps (The 5 R’s ©)

Step 1. Recognize – the need for people to express themselves and their need to be heard.  “I understand that you really want to share some things with me”

Step 2. Request – ask questions as if you are curious to know more “I really would like to hear what makes you think I never care to listen?  What do I do which makes you feel that way”

Step 3. Reflect – confirm your understanding by repeating the speakers exact words.  It’s also like ‘mirroring’.  “So you say that I interrupt you before you complete your sentence?”

Step 4. Rephrase – using your own words to confirm the meaning.  “So you are saying that it’s best that I allow you to complete your sentence before I respond?”  Is that correct?

Step 5. Respond – with ‘open ended questions’ to deepen your understanding.  “ tell me more”; “what are your expectations from me which will make you more comfortable as you speak?”  You can even add value to the conversation by putting forth your own thoughts in a safe manner like “I agree and…..” instead of the typical confrontational “I agree but”

When you start to ‘Listen as a buddy’ your purpose is to “understand, support, assist”.  And the key attitude is “it’s me and you” ; the strategy changes from ‘me against you’ to ‘me and you’.

As I realized, my son really didn’t have much disagreement with what I was trying to say but his concern was that the way I was communicating with him.  When I changed to being his ‘buddy’, we started to have more and more of ‘the critical dialogue’ which otherwise would have been lost in furious arguments or silent resentment.

We must remember that most arguments consist only of 5 to 10 percent of the facts which people disagree with.  Our focus must always be on the ‘points of agreement’ on which we can have a meaningful dialogue and work through our differences.

So how do you Listen; as an “Adversary” or  a “Buddy”?

© thecriticaldialogue.com

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