It seems rather incongruous that in a society of super-sophisticated communication, we often suffer from a shortage of listeners. – Emma Bombeck
Many of us can listen somewhat effectively when we like the person we are talking to and agree with their opinions. However, it gets way trickier when we totally disagree with someone or get triggered or threatened by their ideas or behavior.
40 Selkirk students and staff recently got together to explore ways to continue creating a healthy campus culture. One of the workshops was led by the Director of the Mir Peace Centre, Randy Janzen http://selkirk.ca/faculty/randy-janzen
Randy helped us to develop self-awareness around our patterns of shutting down when we are in difficult conversations or conflict situations. He reminded us that when we get upset we lose our ability to access to our frontal cortex where we can think clearly. To be an effective and compassionate communicator we need to be able to slow things down and observe how things have impacted us emotionally so that we can respond from a place that values connection and understanding over being “right.”
We were introduced to the C.L.A.R.A. acronym with steps for skillfully responding in difficult communication situations. Effective use of the C.L.A.R.A. approach disrupts the spiral of defensiveness that often takes place when people encounter misunderstandings or disagreements:
So here is an unpacking of the CLARA approach:
C = Calm.
Take a moment to acknowledge your feelings (anger, upset, fear . . . .) Take a deep belly breath followed by a long out breath. Just notice your body, your mind and your environment. Let your nervous system slow down and do your best to listen from a place of non-judgmental curiosity.
Speak when you are angry, and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” – Lawrence Peter
L = Listen.
“I wonder if we’ve had the same experiences with ______________________”
Try to really understand what they are saying. (Don’t fall into the trap of “waiting to speak). See if you can imagine how they experience the world and what their opinion means to them.
“I’ve never learned a thing while talking.” – Larry King
A = Affirm.
Try to find common ground, any shared experiences or feelings. See if you can recognize the underlying human needs that drive their positions. Put what they have said in your own words so they know that you are really working to understand their point of view.
Acknowledge what they said before you respond with your thoughts. This can be done through paraphrasing – restating and summarizing key points and reflecting feelings. In our leadership retreat we practiced responding to controversial topics with empathic responses that captured the emotional and intellectual content:
“So you believe the Keystone Pipeline will totally benefit Canadians with jobs and it frustrates you when people in B.C. seem to want their cars and oil based lifestyles, yet protest all the positive developments.”
You can only proceed when you observe that the person has calmed down and seems willing to listen. Until this happens, you need to repeat steps one to three, Calm, Listen, Affirm until you are both in a place where you can hear each other.
R = Respond.
Respond to the exact concerns that the person has raised. This may be again repeating or paraphrasing their message. State your thoughts in a compassionate way.
A = Add.
Add something about how you see the topic. Help the other person to consider the issue in a new light, or redirect the discussion in a more positive direction. For instance:
“Reach out to those you fear. Touch the heart of complexity. Imagine beyond what is seen. Risk vulnerability one step at a time.”– John Paul Lederach
Here are a couple of great videos that “nail” home these lessons and show the power of just acknowledging another’s experience:
We all worked and played together to make this Leadership Retreat vibrant and meaningful! More to come on some of our other explorations and discoveries . . . . .
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”