Difficult Conversations – Poor Listening Example
1:24 “Dismissive Non Verbal Communication”
Split 1:35 – Evaluation of Role Play Done Badly
3:08 “Ask to share experience”
3:51 “Sitting with the other person’s emotion”
SFCTM Role Play 8
Clare: Natalie, there was something you wanted to talk about of a personal nature, what’s happening?
Natalie: I’ve got some really bad news, actually. It’s quite awful and I’m in a bit of shock.
A lifelong friend, somebody I went to school with… she just passed away and unfortunately we lost contact over the years and things didn’t end well between us the last time I spoke to her.
And now she’s gone. And I feel like I have all these things that I wanted to say to her and we should have resolved things… and that opportunity has now passed and I’m really shocked.
Clare: It’s really tough, isn’t it? I had a friend like that once, and you feel so awful, don’t you? You know, I was chatting to people about it for ages and I felt guilty. I think I reached out to their friends and whatever… and I realised that it was a bit wasted, really. It’s too late now isn’t it?
Natalie: Well, it is too late, but I don’t want to just dismiss those feelings of where I’m at with this. It feels very heavy in my heart. I know she’s got two kids and I just feel like I should have done so much more when she was around, and I should have fixed things before I was too late.
Clare: Well, hope you get a chance to speak to the husband or who you need to, because when you can’t do anything, what can you do? I mean, it’s just awful, but these things happen, I suppose.
So, I almost don’t need to ask you how that was because it was so dismissive, wasn’t it?
Natalie: Yes, it absolutely was. It was really hard to to get through. I did not feel listened to at all. Dismissive is the best word.
Clare: Absolutely. And how easily I suddenly gave, “Oh, I’ve been there too.”
So you were telling me something really important and I immediately said, “I had a friend like that,” and I started talking about my problem.
It’s so undermining of the significance of what’s happened to you. Obviously you don’t feel comfortable at that moment. And I say, “Well, what can you do?” and wanting to finish it that just shut you down, didn’t it really?
Natalie: It did. Well, I wasn’t sure if I should start asking you about your friend, because you took the focus away from my current situation. And I thought, well, maybe I should ask you questions about your situation. It definitely took the light off what I was experiencing.
Clare: I think what you’re highlighting there is, often when somebody comes to talk to us about a problem, we’re friends.
Where we’re equals or they’re a colleague and they ask you advice, it doesn’t mean we can’t give this to them.
But, if you plow in early with, “What I would do,” or, “I’ve been there before,” we’re shutting the other person down, when actually they need to get something off their chest, to have their story heard, have it witnessed.
And then perhaps, they’re looking for some solutions. Of course, in the context of a friendship or a colleague, you might say, “Well, let me just share with you. I was in a similar situation there. Can I share with you what happened?”
That’s a very powerful thing to gauge – is it okay to go into your problem – if you think it’s going to help the person to hear it from you.
You can say, “I’ve been in a similar situation there and I’m just wondering if that would be helpful. Can I share with you what I did?”
And if they keep talking because they’re in such an emotional state, it’s a really powerful signal, non-verbally, that, “No, you can’t, I need to talk about this.”
Whereas if you plough in with, “I’ve been there myself,” the other person might feel they need to ask about you instead.
So let’s give each other more space. We’re also dealing with someone who’s emotional and upset. There’s the practicalities, there’s the remorse, there’s the feelings. And then where do we go from here? Let’s see if we can do this better.
New section – title – “Difficult Situation – Effective Listening Skill Use”
0:33 “gaining facts”
1:52 ” Checking significance”
2:20 “empathy and checking out feelings”
3:15 “open ended question”
4:01 “helping person handle their reactions”
4:28 “solution focussed”
6:00 ” solution focused”
6:36 ” learning from problem”
break video at 6:57 “Evaluation: Effective Listening of Difficult Situation
7:25 “Avoid giving advice”
8:09 “Authentic Reflecting”
9:07 “Key Point”
10:22 “Going beyond issue to find solutions”
SFCTM Role Play 9
Clare: So Natalie, you reached out to me said you had something that was causing you a lot of angst and of a personal nature. What’s happening?
Natalie: Clare, I’ve just received some really terrible news. A very old friend of mine has just passed away unexpectedly.
Clare: Really sorry to hear that. What happened?
Natalie: She was in a car accident, so very sudden, obviously no one saw it coming… and I’m just in shock.
Clare: Right. So is this someone you’ve been in contact with for a long time, or a person you saw recently?
Natalie: No, unfortunately not, that’s the problem. We were very good friends in school and we had a falling out in our early twenties and the friendship just
We didn’t reach out to each other, we didn’t resolve anything and now she’s gone and I’m here. I feel incredibly guilty that I didn’t resolve things with her.
Clare: So this was quite a while back and therefore it just shows me it was quite a significant relationship, even though you hadn’t got into contact. Am I right?
Natalie: Yeah, that’s right. We met in primary school, we were best friends from high school and then in our early twenties we drifted.
Clare: You said there was a bit of a falling out. Can you tell me more details about that?
Natalie: Well, it was around our 21st birthdays and it was silly, really. It was a miscommunication of the address for her 21st.
And I didn’t follow through, I didn’t follow up. I missed her birthday. She didn’t contact me three months later for mine. And then that was it.
Clare: So that missing of her birthday, what was the significance of that to you, and then her not coming to yours?
Natalie: It was a very painful time. I was very angry at her, and I’m angry at myself now – in hindsight – for not fixing things.
But at the time I just felt angry and I thought, “Oh well, if you can’t be bothered then neither can I,” and we drifted from that point.
Clare: So you’re struggling with this now. It’s obviously quite a shock, what’s happening. How are you feeling now?
Natalie: Very guilty and very silly. I feel silly for letting go of such an important friendship for something so insignificant. And I just wish I’d made more of an effort and there’s nothing I can do about it now, which is very painful.
Clare: I guess when you’re twenty years old, sometimes it’s not as clear and the time marches on. But that doesn’t help you at the moment, living with this reality.
Natalie: Yeah. You think you’ve got forever when you’re twenty and the years go by very quickly. And now I’m left with this feeling of, “I should have done more.”
She’s had two kids. She went on with her life, I went on with mine. We just never came together again to fix things or rekindle that special friendship.
Clare: So what’s the worst part of all of this, getting this information? Obviously you haven’t been in contact with her. What’s the worst part of all this?
Natalie: Just the regret that we had something very special. We had a lot of fun as young girls and it was key to our formative years, as teenagers. She was my key friend and support, and that just disappeared for a very silly reason. And I can’t get that back.
Clare: No, absolutely not. What was her name?
Clare: Erica. It’s so difficult when someone’s gone away, isn’t it? You’re not able to say to them the things that you would like to say, but if she was here at the moment, what would you say to her?
Natalie: I’m sorry I didn’t understand what the address was when you called me that night and I’m sorry I didn’t make it to your party. And I wish I had written down the address properly and found the venue and just resolved things.
Clare: Sure. And I’m just wondering, cause you said the funeral hadn’t
happened yet. I’m just wondering if you see any options there for you to convey such a message?
Natalie: Gosh, I don’t know if I would feel comfortable doing that in front of her family because it feels so petty, it feels so silly.
I can obviously have a chat to her in my own way, but I feel like it’s such a petty thing to fall out over.
Clare: Sorry. I’m a little bit unclear there, cause the funeral hasn’t happened yet. And I guess if she was here, you’d say to her, “I regret the fact that we lost contact and you were really significant.”
In what way would that be petty?
Natalie: Well, I guess the details of why we fell out, because we were so close for so many years and then we just drifted and ended without any real reason. I think I must feel embarrassed in front of her mum, who knew me so well – I was sleeping over – it’s just a silly reason.
Clare: Okay. And yet you’re left with this dilemma, aren’t you? In one sense, you’ve got remorse, you’ve got regret. You feel guilty, you wish it had been different.
And yet you don’t want to be misrepresented that this was a petty thing. Why didn’t you do something different? Is that the sort of feeling – why did you let that happen?
Clare: Okay. So I’m just wondering if there was a way for you to convey the significance of that relationship, send your love and appreciation, but without adding that extra little bit that might be misconstrued?
Natalie: Yeah. I think I can express how much I valued our friendship and how much she supported me growing up and the good times. I guess communicating the remorse I have without getting into the details would be possible.
Clare: Certainly a possibility. I know it’s going to take time and I’m open to talk to you at any time. I’m just wondering, what can you take from this situation moving forward in other relationships?
Natalie: Not to take them for granted and not to think that person will be there forever and I can fix things in years to come, because those years may not come. So, very much acting in the now.
Clare: So, how did you feel about that exchange of a very sensitive, personal topic and with showing the strength of emotion?
Natalie: I felt very much supported and listened to. It was just a safer space to share the situation compared to the first conversation we had.
Clare: Absolutely. So it’s using the techniques that we’ve already been learning on this program, but at the same time, it’s also not giving someone advice – “What I would do is… Have you thought about this in the way that’s glaringly obvious to me? Why haven’t you tried it?”
There’s a tendency to do that, particularly if we feel uncomfortable in the presence of another person’s emotions.
Some people are afraid to open that up. If they ask the other person how they feel, and then suddenly this emotion comes up, what do they do then?
Sometimes there’s a lot of emotion – and this happens in the workplace as well, not just in our personal lives. Someone’s upset because they just lost their job or someone’s died – they’re real people.
We’re real people at work. We’re living life and it’s sometimes okay to say, “I feel anything I say at the moment will be totally inadequate, but I just need you to know I’m here for you. And if you want to talk about it…”
That realness comes with authenticity. If I’d said that to you, how would that have landed?
Natalie: Oh, that’d be great. I think that would be very well received and I would feel very comfortable in sharing more, just to kind of get it off my chest and not keep everything inside. And I think that’s just so helpful in this situation.
Clare: Yeah, that’s right. And so, we’re encouraging people. These are conversations that matter, and they’re not always this difficult, but there’s always emotion.
There’s anger, there’s disbelief, there’s people getting divorced, they have illnesses. It’s common to shy away from that, or try to encourage the person to cheer up, because we don’t feel comfortable – It’s not that we think they’ll become uncomfortable.
When we can handle our own feelings and reactions ourselves, we’ll be able to be in the presence of somebody else’s.
I f a person feels inadequate and thinks, “I just can’t handle this,” then it’s helpful to say, “I can only imagine how difficult this is for you. And I feel I haven’t got the skills to help you. I’m here as your friend. Can we look at some options to get you some support here? Because I can see you’re really upset.” So you’re not rushing to try and cheer them up.
I encourage people to learn a little bit of this, because sometimes by allowing someone to let off steam, it helps. If not, the other person keeps scrambling to say, “Understand me, do you know how difficult this is?”
Having the difficult conversations is so much easier if they’re underpinned by the core active and empathic listening skills. Saying, “That must be really difficult. I can only imagine how difficult that is,” rather than telling them what they feel.
Tentatively check out that what you’ve heard or what you are experiencing is what they intend, or what they’re feeling.
Ask lots of open-ended questions, and then think outside the box. So say it was a work situation, for instance, and the person can’t resolve this, putting their foot down with boundaries or saying, “No.”
We can ask them, “Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this before?”
And if so, “What did you do then? What can you learn from the past that might be able to take there?”
And an example of someone who’s emotional is, “I know this is going to take a long time to heal,” – good amount of empathy, don’t move on too quickly –
“But given that you have so much remorse about this, what can you take from this that is going to influence your relationships positively, moving forward?
You give somebody hope they can turn that difficulty into something positive.