by Wendy Keller, author, speaker, a woman with ears
I was talking to a highly skilled business coach yesterday. Michael said that while in training, his teacher told the class that when someone says something that contains a huge gap in logic from what they said before, the listener absolutely MUST NOT fill in the gaps with what they think the other person means.
Listening to a girlfriend tell me her problems with her boyfriend yesterday, I could see she was filling in the gaps between what he said, what he did, and then what he said about what he did. He’s not actually treating her very nicely, but she fills in the gaps with reasons for him, making excuses for unacceptable behavior.
We all have a desire for things to make sense. We predict that most other people see the world roughly similar to the way we do. We assume they have the same frame of reference we do. But we get into trouble when we apply this gap-filling to troubled relationships of any type.
Here’s a scary thought: you might NOT know what the people close to you are really thinking!
I love my mom a lot. She’s a nice lady. All my life, though, I’ve felt like we come from different planets. To keep the peace, my brothers and I always think through very carefully what we will say to her, because she has a tendency to get her feelings hurt extremely easily. My youngest brother got tired of the eggshells so he decided to just state his truth calmly, dispassionately, and without any drama, inflection or concern. Just being honest. That’s it.
It has transformed their relationship so visibly that I’ve started applying it myself.
The only way to really, truly know what the people around you are thinking is to ask them and then listen with an open mind to the answer. If you think you already know what they’ll say, you can’t hear what they really DO say. It’s possible they’ve changed. It’s possible they’ve matured. It’s possible they see the matter in a new light now. It’s possible you filled in the gaps with stuff that wasn’t there at all. NOTE TO SELF: Don’t Make Assumptions!
Here’s a few simple steps I learned – and when I remember to apply them in my relationships, they work GREAT.
1. ALLOW for the fact that the other person probably sees the situation differently and can justify his or her perspective from his own logic. A nine-year-old can absolutely explain in minute detail why bedtimes are utterly unnecessary!
2. ASK the other person WHY they see it the way they do. Ask respectfully, calmly and in a level voice.
3. LISTEN silently, without judgment, without thinking of what you’re going to say to refute their perspective.
Only when you can see both sides of the issue can you create a harmonious solution to the matter at hand, soothe the ruffled feathers of the relationship and come to a workable resolution. This advice doesn’t come as a big surprise to you. We all know this. But just for today, see if you can practice active listening and refrain from filling in the gaps for people. Watch, learn and listen to who they really are – you may be quite surprised!
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