‘You’re Not Listening to Me!’

By Nicki Ditch

Nicki Ditch is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and the owner of In Truth Mental Health Counseling in Webster. Contact In Truth Mental Health Counseling at 585-210-3663.

How many times have you felt unheard or may have contributed to another person feeling unheard?

Communication has intricate parts that continuously move. It’s a complex and dynamic process. No wonder that it often goes wrong. It takes practice to communicate in ways that all parties feel heard. Since a felt sense of safety is a necessary element of honest and compassionate communication, I’ve formulated the acronym “SAFE” to guide you.

1. Shift your intentions. Let your goal be to understand the other person rather than to be right. To shift your mindset from debate mode to curious mode, imagine a toggle switch in your mind that you flip from “debate” to “curiosity.”

2. Ask curious questions. As difficult as it may be, work to stay in curious mode. This is hard to do, especially if you are being criticized by the other person. Our natural tendency is to defend ourselves when we feel attacked or challenged. Rather than acting on the urge to defend yourself (“I did that because you…”), ask open-ended questions. “What do you wish I did instead?”

3. Factcheck. We wrongly assume and interpret more often than we care to know. Being wrong feels threatening but when we check our assumptions and interpretations, accept our mistakes, and work to get it right, we give ourselves and our loved ones the gifts of understanding and connection.

4. Erase “why?” from your questioning and replace it with “what?” When we ask a person “why?” we are telling that person to explain and defend himself then we get upset with the other person does just that. “Why are you so angry at me?” can be changed to, “What about what I said has you feeling angry?”

Working to understand rather than to be right takes courage and practice. Don’t give up! When people feel understood, they are more willing to be understanding.