The importance of an open attitude was the subject of a previous article. An open attitude is largely your own responsibility. Yet it takes two to tango: You and the other are interdependent; an open attitude is but one side of the coin. If the other doesn’t tell you anything, you have nothing to listen to! In other words, listening is a collaboration and requires some form of interaction in what is called the collaborative relationship. In this relationship the other will need to be stimulated to be vulnerable, unless it is your aim only to talk about the weather! So next to your personal characteristics (including an unknowing and curious attitude), you will need to activate and stimulate interaction with the other. In this article I introduce the basics of this collaborative relationship and your role in its creation, in another article I will delve a little deeper into the subject. For now, let’s begin with the ideas of unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy and how those three may be used to build this relationship.
Conversations run smoother when you have an open attitude towards your conversational partner and actively create a good working relationship. The collaboration is most effective when the other feels safe and listened to. This all sounds rather obvious, and is rather clichéd too. That’s why in this article we consider how to actually do this.
Image: © 2016 P.L. Houtekamer
Try the following: Write down one of your good qualities and call that A. This can be any sort of quality, such as proactive, friendly or empathic. Now think about how another person would experience your behaviour if you were to exaggerate this good quality, and call this B. If you exaggerate ‘proactive’, for example, that could be experienced as meddling or pushy. There isn’t one correct answer; think about how you would experience an exaggerated behaviour in another. Now, think about what could be an opposite of B, but in a positive sense. For meddling that could be being patient, for example. This positive opposite, you call C. The last step is to exaggerate C: Someone who is too patient never gets going, or is passive, for example. This is called D. Now for the million-dollar question: Do people who demonstrate the behaviour D tend to irritate you?
Do bad questions exist? Definitely, depending on the context in which they are posed. The following are generally to be avoided:
I had to smile inwardly. It wasn’t that I disagreed with the content of what she was saying. Many others say it similarly, such as Edgar Schein calling it humble inquiry, Miller and Rollnick calling it tempering our reparation reflex, Martin Appelo the suppression of our desire to convert and my term observational listening.
Sometimes you will need to tell someone something unpleasant. The characteristic of bad news is that the information you are bringing leaves the other with no option other than to accept it.
Conversations run smoother when you have an open attitude towards your conversational partner and actively create a good conversational relationship. The collaboration is most effective when conversational partners feel safe and listened to. This all sounds rather obvious, and is rather clichéd too. That’s why in this article we consider how to actually do this.
So why do people want to communicate with one another? Is it just making noise because we are supposed to be social animals? Could be. But that raises another question: Why are we social beings?
Ordinarily, people tend to ask questions with a certain goal or purpose in mind. They then listen to the answer as if the answer is based on the question they intended to ask. Yet the other answers based on what he or she understood the question to mean. Observational listening trains the listener to let go of his or her own goals and intentions and concentrate on the reactions evoked. In other words, the listener tries to find out what the question meant to the other. In this way, the listener will “get it”, and be able to bring depth into the conversation in a natural way, without resorting to tricks.