Uncomfortable Truths: The Hardest Part of Good Communication
Donna Kimmel, PhD, 4-17-2017
Ask anyone “in the know” about an essential for good communication and you’ll be told: “Listening. Active listening. Actually, hearing and understanding what’s being said.”
In fact, there’s a technique taught in psychotherapy for people who don’t seem to hear what others’ are saying. One person – the message sender - speaks to the other for a prescribed period of time; and, the message receiver, in his or her own words, repeats what he or she thought was being said. The message sender coaches the receiver until the receiver has clearly expressed the meaning of the sender’s message. Then the roles reverse. The aim is to be certain that each person really understands what the other person feels or thinks.
It’s a useful exercise. People are often surprised by how much they unintentionally distort the meaning of what others are saying.
Again, ask anyone “in the know” about essentials for good communication and you’ll be told something like, “Be thoughtful about what you say and be kind - even when imparting “uncomfortable” truths.” Especially when a message is going to be difficult for someone to hear, it is necessary to be careful, kind and patient. And, that’s not easy when uncomfortable truths are often accompanied by strong emotion.
However, the really hard part of meaningful and successful communication is tolerating (understanding without distortion) messages that one doesn’t want, or like, to hear. Listening to uncomfortable “truths” takes emotional strength and self-confidence. Listening to uncomfortable “truths” requires that the message receiver value respect for the sender, above defending him or herself. It requires accepting that what someone else believes or feels has to be left with the message sender. It is his or her truth – whether you like it or not. The message receiver has to wait to express his or her own contrasting beliefs or feelings - without trying to correct the sender’s message.
In other words, something like this: “I had no idea that that’s how you feel/what you believe. I don’t feel/think that way at all. Here’s how I feel/what I think.”
Good communication requires so much more than active listening and being kind. It requires emotional strength and resilience above all else.