Here is an important and life-altering piece of information: Every message and every situation have both a fact part and a feeling part. To communicate effectively, we must acknowledge both parts. I learned this lesson late in life, and it would have saved me some time and trouble if I’d known about it sooner.
For 20 years, I led volunteers as an Army spouse. In one group that met monthly, there was one young woman who always sat at my right hand and objected to everything that the group proposed. She objected on a factual level – logistics, budget, convenience, etc. She slowed us down every single month.
If I’d been savvier, I would have figured out that it wasn’t the facts that she objected to. I had a vague notion that she was unhappy or resentful, but I had no idea why. She was experiencing some feeling that I wasn’t dealing with at that time. If I’d asked and listened, I could have saved us a lot of time arguing over facts for no good reason.
In my leadership workshops, I have people work in pairs to practice recognizing the feeling part of a message. One person talks about something that arouses strong feelings for him or her. The other person listens and then comments on the facts and feelings that he or she hears. For example, the listening partner might say, “It sounds like [fact part] really frustrates you” or “Wow, [fact part] really makes you happy.”
The reactions of the speaking partners are revelatory. They say that they feel heard and understood. As humans, our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected. Telling someone the emotions you sense that they are feeling powerfully meets those needs.
Don’t worry about getting the emotion wrong. I’ve never seen anyone get upset. The usual response is a pensive “No, I feel more …” The process helps them to become more aware of their emotions.
You can also just ask! Is your pre-teen refusing to wash dishes? If so, then ask how he or she feels about washing the dishes. If a coworker consistently objects to following a procedure, find out why. Don’t accept factual responses. What feelings does he or she have about the procedure?
The answers are usually surprising – something that you wouldn’t have guessed. The only way to move forward in any situation is to reveal and deal with both the fact and feeling parts.
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