Ki (pronounced “key”) is Japanese for universal energy or life force; it’s the central syllable in Aikido and the symbol you see in my logo.
When you push for your way, you virtually guarantee failure.
We all want to be heard. It's gratifying, empowering, and makes us feel valued. And in a difference of opinion, we want our side to be represented. We want others to get who we are and to hear our valid arguments, even if they don't agree with us--though, of course, we'd like that as well.
What we may not realize is that the best way to get our point across is often counter-intuitive. To be successful we have to try less and listen more.
Have you ever dined in a restaurant that has a swinging door in and out of the kitchen? Ever pushed (or watched someone push) on that door when another body is trying to get through from the other direction? What happens? You push, they push, and nobody gets through.
The same push-pushback phenomenon occurs when two people want to get their differing viewpoints across at the same time. It usually sounds something like: "Yes, but you're wrong because ..." or "No, you weren't listening. What I'm trying to say is ..." and so on. If you want to get through to the other side and they're not creating an opening, you either let them talk first or push hard enough to get them to hear you. If we extend the metaphor, they're probably not listening. The more you force, the more they resist.
When you push for your way, you virtually guarantee failure, because the harder you try to persuade, the harder the opposition will do the same. He wants to be heard, too--just like you.
If you want to get your point across, don't make getting your point across the goal. Make understanding the goal. When you try to understand your conflict partner's view, you create an opening for him to do the same. The door swings toward you as you receive his energy, beliefs, and vision, and benefit from a peek at an alternate reality. You're able to see both views simultaneously while you reflect on how differently this person perceives the world from his side of the door.
Don't give in; give way. There's a difference. Giving someone the freedom to deliver his message is a gift and a model. You're not saying you agree with the message; you're saying you're willing to entertain an alternative view to facilitate solving the problem.
Sensing a receptive audience, the speaker relaxes. His energy and ideas have an outlet. His need for you to understand him is less critical than your willingness to try.
Psychologists have found that we are each more interested in knowing that the other person is trying to empathize with us ... than we are in believing that they have actually accomplished that goal. Good listening ... is profoundly communicative. And struggling to understand communicates the most positive message of all.
--Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
Eventually he has nothing left to say, and now he is opening the door for you. In fact, he's eager to hear your reflections. He's thinking, "Wow, I just made some great points. I can't wait to hear what she has to say about them!"
So don't start with, "You are really out of line, you don't know what you're talking about," or "your reasoning is full of holes!"
For example: "John, you've obviously put a lot of thought into this and care a great deal about the outcome. I liked what you said about ... " You must be sincere. We're not talking about manipulation but rather a willingness to step into another human being's shoes.
By listening and acknowledging, you've let your partner come through the door, and it's starting to swing in the other direction. Here's the place where you might get your point across. But one more admonition: change your thinking from getting your point across to offering information that might be of value to him. He may take advantage and he may not. He's more likely to receive your offer favorably if it helps him achieve his goals, look good, or save face.
For example, "John, from what you're saying, you believe you're doing a good job and living up to the requirements of the job description. I have a slightly different take on it. Would you like to hear it? As I see it, you put a lot of thought into preparing our meetings and organizing staff, and I think you want to do a good job. I have some ideas about how you can go further in your career, if you choose to, by making a few simple changes." The door is swinging back. It's your turn to walk purposefully through it.
In the end, you may find that "getting your point across" is language that presumes a contest of wills and that there are more efficient ways to achieve your objective. You are less likely to create defensiveness in the listener when you disclose your thinking, acknowledge his, maintain respect and safety, and establish consequences.
Keep in mind there's a problem on the table to be solved. He's offered his view. And now you will present yours. As you do this, keep the door open. The following steps will help you.
At home, if getting your point across with your teenager means gaining agreement, you will almost never succeed. However, you can set limits and expectations. For example, "I hear you when you say that your friends can stay out until midnight. Nevertheless, you have to be home by 11:00."
"But, Mom! ..."
"I realize this seems hard to you. But I expect you to be home by 11:00."
Establishing limits and consequences is usually a more practical and effective way to be heard than attempting to gain agreement.
In any case, remember that winning a contest and solving a problem are usually two different things. When you find yourself pushing through that metaphorical door, stop and ask yourself whether it's the winning or the solving you're more interested in.
Good luck with all of your communication. Let me know if this article has been useful by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download the pdf version of Being Heard: 6 Strategies for Getting Your Point Across