Facts for Living: Make it a win-win conversation

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension District Agent

In my last article about communication and healthy relationships, I discussed the importance of taking a time out during a heated conversation to avoid using our “angry brains” instead of our “rationale, thinking brains” to handle conflict and communicate.

080714-facts-for-living1Once you’ve taken a time out and are back to your “calm, thinking brain” you can begin using the speaker-listener technique to talk through a problem or issue. The speaker-listener technique is simple; one person speaks while the other listens. It sounds simple, but our natural reaction is to think about our response, interrupt and disagree. We don’t truly listen. Listening means to hear what the speaker is saying well enough to be able to paraphrase what he or she said. Paraphrasing means to put what you heard in your own words. It feels unnatural and slow, but it’s the only way to ensure the listener is effectively listening and not distracted by thinking about his response.

It’s important for the speaker to keep these things in mind:

  • Stay on one topic at a time. Don’t throw everything in but the kitchen sink!
  • Speak for yourself. Don’t mind read: “You don’t care, you did this, you said that … “
  • Don’t go on and on. Make a couple of statements and then pause to give the listener an opportunity to paraphrase what you said.
  • After your partner paraphrases what she heard you say, indicate verbally or by using some body language that she understood correctly what you were trying to say.

Rules for the listener include:

  • Do not disagree, give your side, interrupt or try to solve the problem.
  • Try to understand what your partner is saying.
  • Paraphrase back what you hear. “So what I hear you saying is …”
  • Ask questions to clarify if needed. You can say, “I don’t understand. Can you try again to explain it?”

Again, the speaker-listener technique doesn’t come naturally, so you will have to practice it. Practice it when you don’t need it, when you’re not in a heated argument. If you have a hard time allowing each other time to speak, use an object (stress ball or pen) that you can pass back and forth as you speak. The person with the object is the person who “has the floor”.

If the other person has never heard of the speaker-listener technique or refuses to use it, you can say, “Let’s stop and try again. How about I just listen and see if I understand what you’re saying?” Or, “I want to understand your point of view, but it’s hard with us both talking over each other.” Then give the speaker a “cut” sign or ask if he or she can pause for a second so you can understand and paraphrase what was just said. After listening for a while, ask her to switch and listen to you. If necessary, ask her to tell you what she heard you saying.

Happy practicing!


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at Frontier Extension’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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