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  • Writer's picturelarahammock

EARS: How to Respond When Someone is Trying to Connect

For whatever reason, recently I've been privy to a lot of conversations where the person sharing feels frustrated and the person responding to them has no idea what they are doing wrong.  I’ve thought about this quite a bit, so let’s break it down.

Goal = Connection

This applies to conversations where the goal is that the person speaking wants to be better understood.  They want to connect and share something about themselves.  This is not a debate or an evaluation.  The person talking is sharing a story or their thoughts or their feelings.  It's important to know what the goal of the conversation is because that will help to shape your response.  Most conversations that are between friends, colleagues, and family members have this goal -- the speaker wants you to understand something about them.  And in this case, as the responder, you want them to feel listened to, understood, and safe to share about themselves.

🟢 🟡 🔴 Traffic Light Categories

In my mind, responses can be divided up into 3 buckets.  There are great responses -- green light behaviors, responses that are okay some of the time -- yellow light behaviors, and responses that are never okay -- red light behaviors.  So, in this post we will talk about my acronym for green and yellow light behaviors -- EARS.  Again, this is when you want your response to make the speaker feel safe, understood, and listened to.  Let’s start with

🟢 Green light behavior

  • E.  E stands for Empathy.  This is any kind of response that lets the speaker know you understand, you feel what they are feeling, you validate their feelings or experience, and you encourage them to continue talking and sharing.  Just remember, you don't have to agree in order to empathize.  You can simply validate their feelings without agreeing that you would feel that way.  This is what it means to empathize.  Some people have a hard time feeling empathetic -- maybe I'll do a future video on this.  Empathy in it's true form, is an advanced skill.

  • A.  A stands for Ask Questions. Get curious -- ask the questions that allow you to understand more deeply.  Say you are struggling to understand what the speaker is saying or why it's important to them -- that is a great time to ask some questions!  Pretend you are going to write an article about them after the conversation so that you need to get it their perspective completely right.  Do you have all of the information or have you simply filled into the blanks with a bunch of assumptions?  Ask those questions!  Ask what they mean by that?  How important it is?  How long they've felt that way?  If you can't think of any questions to ask, then paraphrase the most important points and then ask if you are getting it completely. 

These are both green light behaviors.  Just watch people who are good at empathizing and asking questions and you'll learn a lot about how to really make people feel like you are listening and following them.  Now for the

🟡 Yellow light behaviors

  • R.  R stands for Relating.  Relating is when you tell your own story that is "related" to what is being shared.  It can be a story, something you've read, or something that comes up for you.  This *can* be fine, but you really need to make sure of two things: 1) don't go on for too long or you'll step on the speaker's spotlight and 2) always, always, always bring it back to the person who is sharing or you'll hijack the conversation.  You can tell a short, related story and then say, "Is that how you are feeling?"  or "Does that experience resonate with you?"  Then allow them to share how that impacted them.  The intention here should always be to allow them to respond to your story with a deeper understanding of themselves.  And be very, very careful not to compete.  "Or you think your day was bad?  Well, let me tell you about my terrible day."  That is actually minimizing and is a red light behavior dressed up as relating.  If you never bring your related story back to the speaker, you have just hijacked the conversation.  The speaker will not only feel misunderstood, but also deflated, unimportant, and talked over.  Watch out for this.

  • S.  S stands for Solutioning. This is when you problem solve rather than trying to listen and understand.  Again, this *can* be okay in limited circumstances.  And those circumstances are WHEN THE PERSON ASKS YOU TO PROBLEM SOLVE.  If they have not, please refrain from trying to give them your solutions.  Particularly, and this is a pet peeve of mine, before you've asked any questions.  And honestly I would like for the sentence starter, "Why don't you just . . . " to be completely banned from the English language.  "Why don't you just do this super easy, simple thing I've just come up with without asking you any questions?" All in one sentence you have basically told them you think they are a dumbass since there is a perfectly easy solution that you, a genius, have alighted upon without asking a single question about their problem.  Just don't.  Here is the thing with people who solution too fast.  Despite what you think -- that you are just super logical and rational just want them to have the benefit of your wisdom -- you are actually doing it because the conversation is making you uncomfortable.  You have to find a way to deal with your own discomfort in a way that doesn't demean and annoy the person you are talking to.  If that person wanted your opinion, they would've asked for it.  The fact that you can't keep from problem solving is a "you" issue, not a “them” issue.

So, there we have it: two green light behaviors -- empathy and asking questions and two yellow light behaviors to be used only in limited circumstances -- relating and solutioning. 

In my next post, I'll cover what NOT to do if you want the speaker to feel understood and listened to and safe sharing with you.

Let me know what you think.  Comments are always appreciated and thanks for reading!

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1 comentário

Mark Brady
Mark Brady
25 de mai.

I love how much knowledge and wisdom you've condensed down and elegantly baked into this acronym. I can actually remember that . . . I have EARS!

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