Time management coaches say that there is nothing worse than trying to be perfect at something that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place. I think the same goes for interpersonal communication. There is no surer way to mess up a relationship than passionately trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist while ignoring the real issue. That happens when we don’t understand people.
My eldest son surprised me the other day by announcing that he doesn’t want to go to soccer practice anymore. My first reaction was to shout, ‘WHAT?? WHY??? You love going there, and you’re so good at it!’. Fortunately, I managed to control my emotions this time (it doesn’t happen every time, though :D). I decided to use a strategy known as LABELING in the negotiation and sales business.
Don’t try to fix the problem; understand people and LABEL the emotion
Labeling means that we try to look at a situation from the other person’s viewpoint. We try to understand people and the REAL emotion behind what is being said and then say it aloud while remaining calm and respectful.
Easier said than done, I know, but sometimes you just need to take a deep breath and count to five before saying something you’ll end up regretting. The better our negotiation and people-knowing skills, the better we will be at communication, and who do we know better than our own kids ☺.
Once you’ve understand people and figured out the REAL emotion, you can begin working with it. That way, we will be working with the CORRECT feeling and working on solving the REAL problem rather than justifying our own viewpoint (as tempting as that may be).
My experience shows that putting negative emotions into words works really well. It relaxes and calms the person undergoing the negative feeling. It is like the dam in Frozen 2 that broke. Instead of destroying the town, it freed everyone from the curse and saved everyone’s relationships. Once you find the right words to convey your emotions, it is like you’re freed from a spell, and you can focus on the solution — Hocus Pocus words in focus.
People AND KIDS (they are people too:)) don’t say what they mean, don’t mean what they say, or speak in complete sentences.
Suppose we can name the real problem and emotion. In that case, the other half feels understood and more open to possible solutions. We won’t accomplish anything if we only try to force our own ideas without thinking about what’s behind the words. Or well, I guess we’ll achieve something – the person will be less likely to share their true feelings and worries with us next time.
The same applies to kids. They might accept the situation after your power struggle. Still, it will only fracture your relationship in the long run, and there is less chance that they will come to you to openly discuss their problems.
Suppose we lose a trusting relationship with our kids when they’re five. In that case, I doubt they want to share their troubles with us when they’re teenagers, and that’s when we really want them to come to us instead of holding a grudge against the world.
LISTEN! Really listen! (There’s a difference between hearing and listening)
It is crucial to understand not only the words but also the emotions behind what is said. How to do it? Here’s the secret – LISTEN! Really listen! Listen to what the other person is trying to communicate with every cell in your body.
Try to put yourself in their shoes (I admit it’s difficult considering how small kids’ shoe sizes are but let’s try). It also helps observe their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language when trying to see if they match what they’re saying. Kids are a bit easier to read than adults in that sense; they haven’t mastered the art of ‘the fake smile’ quite yet.
Studies show that words actually make up a relatively small part of the conversation. Dr. Mehrabian has created the following formula describing the conveyed message: words 7%, tone of voice 38%, and body language 55%. This would mean that 93% of the communication happens without words. Keep that in mind when talking to kids. Do their words convey their real emotion?
Articulate the problem
Once you feel like you’ve understood the genuine emotion, you should articulate it. Use these to start the sentence:
- It sounds like . . .
- It looks like . . .
- It seems like . . .
Don’t use the word I; for example, I feel like… Doing so would imply that everything revolves around you and not the other person. It also burdens you with the task of finding the solution.
This technique works on YOU as well. Sometimes it helps when you say things out loud. For example: ‘I am furious because my kid just threw my favorite cup on the floor, breaking it into a million pieces. It gives you the chance to face your emotions. It also stops you from sending a plate to join the cup on the floor as a way of letting out the feeling. Otherwise, you’ll be buying new china weekly.
The fundamental goal of negotiations is to create a connection and the feeling that you’ve been understood. You can do it through genuine interest, in-depth listening, and being in the moment 100%. Again, really listen.
Summing up the LABELING technique:
- Really listen and try to understand the actual emotion behind the words.
- Label the negative feeling as well as you can.
- Shut up and let them talk (your goal is to hear them saying: “That’s right.”)
So, this is how our story ended.
I remembered that my son was really disappointed the other day because the ice cream truck always stops by our neighborhood on Friday evenings. This is precisely the time when his soccer practice takes place.
I’ve realized that kids get a special pleasure from buying ice cream from the ice cream truck. It’s at least 117 times cooler than getting it from the store. Maybe even more. And parents get the pleasure of paying waaaaay more for the same ice cream. How lucky are we? 😀
“It feels like you’re upset that the ice cream truck comes by our house during your soccer practice’ I said.
“YESSSSS!!!! IT’S SO UNFAIR!!!! My little brother is always home when it comes by, but I have to be at practice. IT’S NOT FAIR AT ALL!!!!!!!!.”‘
‘What do you think if we’d ask the ice cream truck to come a little later when you’re back from practice?’ I offered.
“Ooooooh, that would be so cool!”
“Would you want to continue going to practice then?”
“Of course! I’m a great player”, he said cheerfully and ran outside to kick the ball around with his brother.
Crisis averted. Good job, Annika! I believe you’ve earned an extra ice cream from the truck next time it comes around.
P.S. If you know someone who could benefit from reading this post then please share it with them. Everybody benefits from a boost of positivity. We would both greatly appreciate it!