Thursday, 28 June 2007

Things I still love you too much to say - the need to encourage your opponent to elaborate on their complaint

On Elvis Costello's Spike album there is a top song called Deep Dark Truthful Mirror which contains the lyric there are "Things I still love you too much to say". A painful realisation and one I often see my clients wrestling with.

They feel a need to redress a situation within their relationship but cannot bring themselves to say what is going wrong. The result? "Oh we've just fallen out of love." - not a line, actually, that I let my clients get away with.

It is a key problem within dispute dialogue and one reason for conflict aversion.

For a more general application the lyric would be changed to "But if I tell them that, they might be hurt and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

The result is that we hedge around the issues without openly or transparently communicating what is bugging us. As we continue to avert the problem though, the behaviour or characteristic continues and our irritation increases.

We become frustrated with ourselves for lacking the skills to sensitively address the issue and then compound our irritation with blame for the way it is making us feel. A vicious circle.

In the end, the frustration and irritation explodes in a disproportionate and hurtful outburst. For example, we see couples divorcing when really they need an honest communication about their respective spending plans, personal hygiene or dress sense. They hold off communicating out of love and the result is one of those dispute ironies, that their marriage and the love they were trying to protect is lost within perceived conflict.

So, as we look at learning communication skills, one of them has to be encouragement. If my wife has a beef with me, I need to be able to reassure her that it is safe for her to truly communicate whatever the issue might be.

The same applies in the workplace. Chances are that an employee will do anything they can to avoid raising a problem. They like their boss, or are grateful to a colleague for something they did, but there's just this one thing...

Employees need a safe environment where they can communicate grievances and employees ought to provided with the skills to enable them to do so. It will make a difference on how they, in return, carry out their employment.

Only last week I was in a large department store in Bristol in the shoe department. A floor manager had just spoken to the young sales assistant who then wheeled away from the manager with a scowl on her face that spoke volumes to me, the customer. It said, this is not a happy place. I do not want to be here. I have a beef with my manager and if you so much as think of asking me to try a pair of those shoes in size 9 I will give you everything that I am currently holding back from telling my boss. If you even attempt to buy shoes here you will only be compounding my misery by endorsing the abuse I perceive I have to suffer under this tyrannical regime.

I didn't buy the shoes. I turned and left.

I have turned and left pubs or restaurants where there is an atmosphere between staff as well. Clients see this stuff going on and they respond to it. I know that if I've been a bit stressy that it will impact on my secretary and that is disastrous. On the telephone, the dissatisfaction is even more deafening.

1 comment:

Alexander Massey said...

Two thoughts ... First, this reminds me of Stephen Covey's comments about 'listening to understand'; he says that this requires enormous courage, because we have to be prepared to face the truth of someone else's pain, or the other's words hold up a mirror to show us that we were not who we thought we were.

The second thought is that this kind of listening means I have to let go of my 'position'. Letting go is the key concept here, letting go of my identity, of the self-image I am attached to.