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How To Talk So Others Will Really Hear You

Making this one little tweak to your communication style will improve all your relationships.

Morsa Images/Getty Images
Morsa Images/Getty Images,

by Janice Holly Booth

Relationships
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“Why is it so hard for us to shut up and listen?” asks Amy Cuddy in her new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Listening—really listening—is hard, says Cuddy, because “When we encounter someone we’ve never met before, we immediately fear that we won’t be taken seriously. That we’ll seem ‘less than.’ So we talk first, to own the moment, to take charge, to prove ourselves. We want to show what we know, what we think, what we’ve already accomplished.” Talking first, Cuddy says, means “I am smarter than you, I should speak while you listen.”

Deciding to listen instead of speak isn’t just a simple decision. “Real listening can’t happen unless we have a sincere desire to understand what we’re hearing,” says Cuddy. The challenges that arise when we really need to listen are the same ones that make it hard to be sufficiently present to do so. “And that’s not an easy thing to manage, because it requires us to suspend judgment—even when we’re feeling frustrated or scared or impatient or bored,” says Cuddy. “For some of us, it also means we need to overcome our fear of silence, of space.”

See also: Is Your Relationship IQ as High as You Think?

The principle is the same whether you’re negotiating a peace treaty, requesting a raise, or working through a problem with your partner: listening means relinquishing power in order to—ironically—become more powerful. When you stop talking, stop preaching and listen, Cuddy says here’s what will happen.

The principle is the same whether you’re negotiating a peace treaty, requesting a raise, or working through a problem with your partner: listening means relinquishing power in order to—ironically—become more powerful. When you stop talking, stop preaching and listen, Cuddy says here’s what will happen.

People can trust you. If you don’t have people’s trust, you will find it very hard to influence them in a deep and lasting way.

You’ll acquire useful information, which makes it much easier to solve any problem you face. You may think you know the answer, but before you’ve listened to what another person really thinks and feels—what truly motivates him/her—you can’t be sure.

You begin to see other people as individuals, maybe even allies. You no longer see other people as stereotypes. You move from us versus them to simply us. Your goals become shared, not conflicting.

See also: Conquering Communication: Why a Growl Speaks Louder Than an Angry Word

You develop solutions that others are willing to accept and even adopt. When people contribute to the solutions—when they are co-owners—they are more likely to accept even a negative outcome when they feel that the procedure that got them there was fair.

Bottom line: When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen. This is both stunningly intuitive and stunningly hard to do: if people do not feel that you get them, they are not inclined to invest their time and energy in activities, such as listening, that will help them to understand you.

“This is not to say that listening to another person guarantees a favorable outcome every time,” explains Cuddy. “In fact, part of presence is accepting the possibility of disappointment and not allowing that to knock you off course or cause you to doubt. What appears at first to be failure may actually be something else altogether—an opportunity to grow in an unanticipated way.”