Loads of us are finding ourselves stuck indoors with difficult people who are (most unreasonably) accusing us of being the difficult one. This could go on for a long time, so over the next week or two I’m going to blog on ways to turn arguments into constructive communication and the difficult person into someone you can manage and even enjoy to be locked down with for as long as this process takes.
Step one: asking how someone is feeling and listening to the answer:
1 Before you get started, remember that stress and fear is everywhere and that this will be influencing the way all of us behave and react. Give yourself a break, everyone’s going to find things hard, at least some of the time.
2. Ask the difficult person how they’re feeling. Just like that. “How are you feeing?” or “What’s going on for you?” or “How are you finding this situation?”
3. Listen to what they say. Try to put aside your urge to justify why what they’re saying is unfair, or wrong, or stupid, or how you see things differently, for now. Just listen, as if they’re a character you’re going to have to play in a film. You really want to know how they are.
4. Once they’ve told you, you’ll want to give your side. Don’t. Not yet anyway. First you need to check you’ve understood them, by saying something like:
“Can I check I’ve understood what you’re saying?” and then, report back to them what you’ve heard, no gloss, no advice, no judgement, no sarcasm, but as if you were the difficult person, speaking from their position.
It might sound something like :
“Okay, so what I’ve heard is that you are going mad with boredom and you hate living with us and when I turned the TV off and demanded you get back to your school work, you’d reached your limit.”
I know what the difficult person will have said won’t have sounded like this. Not the first time you asked anyway. It will have sounded more like “F**k off I hate you,” or “What’s the f**king point, this is just shit,” or “What are you sounding so weird for, this is so cringe”, in which case, you might have to ask how they’re feeling several times.
5. Once you’ve explained what you heard, now surely is the time to say how reasonable you were being, how you deserve some respect, and how what you did was for his/her own good? Afraid not. Now is the time to say, “Did I hear you correctly?” or “Is that what you were saying?” I know this sounds wooden and unnatural, but trust me, people want to be heard and being offered that opportunity will (eventually) take precedence over awkwardness.
6. If the answer is “No, you never listen to me”, you can say, “I want to listen to you now. These are strange circumstances and I’d like to communicate in a different way. Please tell me again how you’re feeling so I can understand properly.” (That’s the gist. You might be able to make it sound more natural). Go on like that until they say yes.
7. When they agree that you’ve understood what they were saying, you’ve accomplished step one, the hardest step (and sometimes enough in itself to diffuse the situation).
The next step is talking about how you’re feeling without getting the difficult person’s back up…
You could do a lot worse that get yourself this book which will take you step by step through the most effective way to resolve conflict and learn to communicate effectively.