Monday, April 15, 2013

Communication Rule Number 4

Paraphrase what your partner just said.
State it in your own words and check it out. Say, "I hear you saying that you feel … Do I have it right?" or "Let's see if I understand what you're saying. You're saying … Am I right?"
The purpose of this rule is to get you to listen to your partner when you hadn't realized you weren't and to get your partner to realize that you're listening when he or she hadn't thought you were. Also, it's to make sure you're not mishearing.
But people feel least like paraphrasing when they need to do it the most, that is, when they're angry and feel misunderstood. At such a time, they don't want to listen; they want their partners to listen to them.
Furthermore, paraphrasing and checking back seems to most people artificial and stilted. John Gottman reports that even skillful couples don't do it. On the other hand, the paraphrasing rule reveals something important about couple life, which is that partners often feel unlistened to by each other. So I recommend devising your own more informal, less stilted version of paraphrasing (active listening):

"I've been so busy trying to get you to see … that I hadn't noticed that what you're trying to get me to see is that …."
"I know you're trying to tell me …. But I can't listen because it makes me too mad."
"Okay, you're telling me …, but here's why I don't buy it."
"You've said that eight times now. The repetition is driving me crazy. But, you know, maybe you're repeating it because you don't think I've heard—and, well, actually, maybe I haven't."
"What particularly touched me in what you just said was…"

Dan Wile

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