Marshall Peter, the father of a now deceased child with multiple disabilities and founding Director of the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), shares advice on communication and stresses the importance of listening (running time: 2 min., 12 sec.).
Probably the single most important piece of advice that I give folks is to (that’s become a cliché) is to seek first to understand then to be understood. My own communication dance particularly when I’m having a strained communication is when the other person is talking to be thinking about what it is that I’m going to say next. And then quite likely when I’m talking the other person is thinking about what it is that they’re going to say next. And so if you have two people who are either talking or thinking about what they’re going to say, the possibility that they are really going to meaningfully connect and reach an outcome that is mutually beneficial is pretty remote. So at the point that I’m in a difficult discussion, if I first commit myself to understanding what it is that the other person’s saying and really communicating to their satisfaction that I understand what they’re saying, that I understand the point that they’re making. When they believe that I do in fact understand what they’re saying, they no longer have to be thinking about what it is that they’re going to say that will cause me to understand and then become available to hear what it is that it’s important to me that they understand. So really the paradox in all of this is that the way that we really get to be heard is by listening. So it’s really that notion that the first task in any strained communication is to understand what it is the other person is saying. That’s the one that I really suggest people bet the house on.