Have you ever had that awkward moment when you have something on your mind, you’re pouring out your heart to someone, and they say ALL the wrong things?
Today we’re going to talk about guiding conversations to ensure that people don’t just hear us, but truly understand us too.
Welcome back to the XO Conversations podcast, where we dive deep into personal growth, communication and connection. I’m your host, Rishma Walji, and today, we’re going to tackle a topic that’s going to change the way you talk to just about everyone in your life.
Have you ever shared something close to your heart, only to get a response that’s way off base? Yeah, me too. And it’s not just awkward; it can be downright frustrating.
But here’s the thing: conversations don’t have to be a hit or miss. Today, we’re diving into the secret sauce of guiding conversations to not just be heard, but truly understood. Because let’s face it, we all want to get the advice and support we actually need, right?
If you’re loving these deep dives into making every aspect of your life more fulfilling, and if you want new episodes to show up on your app, give the podcast a follow!
Understanding Your Communication Needs
OK tell me if this has ever happened to you. Sometimes something happens in my life and I want to share it, and I tell my husband, and he’ll immediately start giving me advice on how to fix it. And I’m like I don’t want you to fix this problem, I just want you to give me I don’t know, an enthusiastic reaction.
So over the years, I’ve learned that if something happens and I want a dramatic response, I call my sister in law. She’ll laugh loudly or give me an appropriate “what? No way” when I want it.
Or if I want someone to nurture me and tell me I’m awesome I call my mom. Because she’s so overly supportive that if I just think of doing something, she’ll be like “oh beta, I’m so proud of you” even when I haven’t done anything to be proud of yet. I find it so funny and yet so endearing that if she says you’re so wonderful, then when i hang up, i can tell myself “I am so wonderful’ – maybe I should record her so you can listen to her encouragement when you need a pick me up 🙂
Think about the last time you shared a personal story, an issue at work, or even a small incident at the grocery store? It’s not always just casual chatter. Deep down, whether we admit it or not, there’s often a reason we pick specific people for specific stories. When we open up, we’re not just sharing, we’re also seeking something. We’re looking for understanding, validation, comfort, or perhaps advice. It’s not merely about offloading what’s on our minds; it’s also about finding clarity, solace, or direction for ourselves.
And while it’s fun to call certain people when I’m looking for a certain response, truthfully I think there are times when we need to share how we like to be communicated with. If we know ourselves, and we have awareness of what we need, then we can not only avoid unnecessary conflict, but we can also move through situations, emotions, stress so much more easily.
And joking aside, I’m going to lay out a few actual examples of how I do this in my real life and then I’m going to give you some tips on how you can do this too.
Most of the time, when people talk about communication, they talk about how to listen to someone, how to understand what they need. But I think communication is a two way process. And if you can cultivate some self awareness, it goes a long way to improving not only your ability to communicate, but also your connection with others, your ability to work through your thoughts and share in a way that is more meaningful to you and the person you’re sharing with.
Mastering Conversation Framing
- So my first suggestion is to Frame the conversation.
Tell the person you’re talking to what you need in that moment. So for example, it can be something simple like “I just need to vent right now, I don’t need a solution”. I do this a lot, and sometimes it’s funny because my husband and I will be on a walk and I’m in the middle of telling him something and he’ll ask “is this a venting moment, or can I give you a suggestion”? And I’m saying it’s funny because if I give him the side-eye, he knows it’s not a solution moment. And it works both ways, he’s figured out how to tell me what he needs and honestly it’s a game changer for our communication.
But I’m going to take it one step further. It’s easy to say you want to pre-frame the subject but if you can get good at knowing what you need, and listening when the other person says they need something, you can even apply this to more difficult situations. So we’ve gotten really good at separating our emotions and our communication. It’s not always easy, but we will very often say things like “I know you’re not upset at me or blaming me but I’m feeling really defensive right now and I need to pause this conversation to make sure you’re not saying that you think I did something wrong”. Or “I’m feeling emotional about this because I’m worried about x and you’re saying something that reminds me of x so my reaction is bigger than you realize right now”.
Framing conversations in this way takes practice, it takes emotional regulation, it takes a whole heck of a lot of trust in yourself and the other person, and of course it takes a lot of self awareness. But if you can do it, together, your conversations have the potential to be richer and more effective for both people involved.
Communication Strategies for Different Contexts
Even beyond relationships, you can frame conversations in different contexts. Let’s say for example, you’re dealing with a health issue. I used to coach my patients on this all the time. Now I know every country is different in how it handles healthcare but here, sometimes people would need to wait before they’d be able to get a specialist appointment. And when they would see a specialist, they’d only have a set amount of time. So I would often teach my patients how to frame the conversation by saying I have x y z symptoms and it’s been going on for this long and this is when it gets worse. Otherwise, people tend to explain the whole backstory and the diagnosis can get lost in the history. So it’s a way to be more efficient.
Framing can also help you be more productive in meetings at work. There might be times when you want to have casual chats and spontaneous ideas but framing can be useful if for example, you’re trying to get through a project or stay on topic.
Knowing What to Ask: The Power of Specific Questions
- My next suggestion is to ask specific questions.
Sometimes a conversation is just that, spontaneous and engaging just to be part of it and see where it goes. But, If you want something specific from the conversation, you have to lead it with specific questions.
Imagine you’re at a restaurant and you order “Can I have some food please?” What are the chances you’re going to get what you’re craving? Slim. But if you say, I’d like the beet salad with grilled chicken and the dressing on the side, you’re going to get exactly what you want.
This is how it is when you’re looking for something out of a conversation. And trust me, conversations are more purposeful than you realize. I teach my kids to do this with their teachers.
Instead of asking their teacher, ‘Why didn’t I get a good grade?’, be more specific with, ‘Can you help me understand which parts of my assignment didn’t meet the criteria, and how can I improve in those areas for future assignments?'”
It’s the same when talking to your friends or partner. You might be looking for advice, or brainstorming or even help unpacking your options so that you can think more clearly.
- Instead of the vague ‘Are we okay?’, ask your partner, ‘I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected lately. Can we talk about how we can both feel more connected and supported in our relationship?’
- I’m feeling a bit lost about this decision and could use some guidance. Can you help me weigh the pros and cons of each option?
- Instead of ‘What should I do about my job?’, consider asking your mentor, ‘Based on my current skills and career goals, what specific steps would you recommend for my professional development?’
Reflective Listening Skills
As a listener, I often try to do this. When someone is sharing something, instead of jumping to advice, I try to ask more questions to understand what they want, what they’re struggling with and this usually helps me to offer more helpful comments.
I might ask something like:
- What kind of support are you looking for right now? I might even add, ‘Are you seeking advice, or do you need someone to listen and understand?’
- “You mentioned you’re feeling super overwhelmed. What’s getting to you about all this?”
- “That thing at work really seems to have thrown you for a loop. What’s the biggest thing about it that’s bugging you?”
- Sometimes I’ll even say, I have a lot of thoughts and suggestions about this, if you ever want to hear my perspective just let me know. Because they might not want advice at that moment, or at all.
Sharing More Than Just The Facts
- Share your feelings, not just the facts.
Sometimes, we share a play by play of what happened and we’re expecting to get a certain reaction from the person we’re talking to. But that person might see things in a different way, they may not understand how the situation made you feel.
This happens a lot because different people are impacted differently even by the same situation.
We all have a certain way of seeing things and different things that poke us, maybe a stressor or a fear or sensitivity. If we share not just what happened but also how we feel, it can help guide the listener and the conversation.
This is not easy, we don’t always know how or why we feel certain things, we may not even know that we’re feeling certain emotions. But I find that sharing things in this way is really helpful for communication.
So for example:
- Instead of I had back-to-back meetings all day, and then my computer crashed, try I had back-to-back meetings all day, which was exhausting. Then, when my computer crashed, I felt totally overwhelmed and a bit defeated. It’s like no matter how hard I work, something always goes wrong
- Or instead of I can’t believe that Julie didn’t invite me to her birthday party. Try something like Julie didn’t invite me to her birthday party, which really hurt. It made me feel like I’m not important to her or maybe that our friendship isn’t as strong as I thought.
Your conversation may unfold differently of course but can you see how adding the feelings might not only help the conversation but also your understanding of the problem, of yourself and even maybe your next steps?
- Clarify misunderstandings in real-time
Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation, pouring your heart out, and suddenly realize you and the person you’re talking to are not on the same page? They might misinterpret your words, or the conversation might take an unexpected turn, all of a sudden you’re going down a rabbit hole you didn’t intend to explore?
Sometimes conversations go off the rails and it’s hard to salvage. People will often shut down or go in a different direction, sometimes the conversation will change into something totally different. And sometimes that’s OK but when you’re looking to get something specific out of the conversation, it can help to clarify right away.
If you sense there’s a disconnect in the conversation, don’t just plow ahead. Stop. Clarify. It’s like if you’re giving someone directions and you see them turning the wrong way. You wouldn’t just keep talking; you’d stop them and redirect them. Do the same in your conversations.
It’s the difference between a dialogue and two monologues happening at the same time.
It’s not about pointing fingers or laying blame for the misunderstanding; it’s about reconnecting and realigning your communication. You want to make sure that both of you are not just hearing, but truly understanding each other.
So, how do you navigate this? It’s about finding those soft yet clear words that can gently nudge the conversation back to where it needs to be.
I’ve said things like:
- I can see how you’d think that, but what I really meant was
- I didn’t mean to imply X, what I really wanted to say was
- I think I wasn’t clear, let me try again
Empathy in Communication: A Two Way Street
- Show empathy
Even if you’re the one looking for advice and input, remember, the person you’re opening up to isn’t a mind reader – even if sometimes we wish they were! They’re doing their best to help us, but they’re also drawing from their own experiences and perspectives – which are so different from our own.
It’s easy to feel disappointed or frustrated if how they respond doesn’t align with what we’re hoping for. But let’s pause and consider their intentions. They’re trying to help, to connect, to be there for us in the way they know how. Getting frustrated or shutting down doesn’t foster the kind of understanding and connection that you’re seeking.
The Dance of Dialogue
I think about it this way: every conversation is a dance. Both partners need to be in tune with each other’s rhythm’s.
When someone doesn’t respond in the way we expect, it’s an opportunity to guide them gently. We can share with them kindly and openly what we need in that moment. And we need to be OK with them doing the same when the situation is reversed.
As much as we want certain things from a conversation, it’s not just a one-way agenda. We have to put ourselves in their shoes, too. We can still say ‘I appreciate your perspective, and I’m also looking for ..’. It’s not just about being polite, it’s also about speaking up about what we need, and building a bridge of understanding.
OK we’ve covered some serious ground on how to steer conversations to get the advice you really need. Remember, it’s all about being clear with what you want and understanding that the person you’re talking to isn’t a mind reader.
So, frame your conversations, ask specific questions, share your feelings, clarify misunderstandings, and show a little empathy. Sounds simple, but trust me, these small changes can make a massive difference.
Don’t forget, if you found value in today’s episode, share it with someone who could use these tips. And I’d love to hear from you. How have these strategies worked in your life? Your insights could be just what someone else needs to hear. You can share this episode on social, or reach out to me via the website livingxo.com