Second-Person Observations

Using our Observation Worksheet can help a person listen better. By better listening I mean gift listening, no-agenda listening, no-fix listening, calm presence listening, focused attention listening, available ears listening, trust building listening.

So far I've focused on using the Observation Worksheet to understand oneself and find good words to fit in order to communicate more clearly. Now I will turn to how this work can help us listen and understand when the other person speaks.

I might wish the other person knew all I know about the words to use so as to make requests more delightful to me. However, not everyone knows how to speak without words and tones that sound hurtful to me and invite me to raise my defenses.

So in order to stay focused on giving my gift of listening, I need a way to target my hearing, in order to hear what matters most to the person speaking. I will not claim that I actually know what matters most to the speaker, because the other person's story is not mine to tell.

In the midst of cascading accusations, put-downs, and demands, producing fear, guilt, and shame, I can focus my ears to hear the situation as the other person sees it, to hear his or her feelings and basic human desires to which I can connect, and to hear the simple request that will make his or her life better.

Instead of advising or teaching like a mother, instead of telling a better story or  back-slapping like a childhood pal, instead of asking or giving explanation or contradiction or diagnosis or sympathy, I can listen for that person's story, feelings, desires, and requests.

In whatever way it comes, every communication to me is an opportunity for me to bless the life of another, to contribute to that person's well-being, to help make his or her life more wonderful right now. That's what I want to hear by better listening.

Listening is not punctiliar. I never ever get to act like I know for sure the other person's life. I stay with it. I listen again. And I repeat back what I heard to check on my correctness, and we go another round for deeper understanding. Telling, telling back, telling again. Always listening.

Checking on what I heard requires a tone of voice that goes with the humility of not knowing for sure. Never do I get to tell the other person what he or she perceives or feels or thinks or needs. I may guess. I may check out my guess.

The formula: "Are you thinking of X? (Use unthreatening situation words.) Are you feeling X (feeling words) because you wanted X (human desires words)? Are you wanting me to X? (Use specific action words.)" A guess for X can be much gentler and more inviting than an interrogation like, "What are you feeling?"

After posing a guess to check my observations, I will stop and listen, again. And I will keep listening and checking my observations until I have some kind of evidence that the other person feels heard and feels satisfied that I indeed do understand.

Listening is a process not a point in time. Listening requires investment of time. Listening is a commitment to be with another person. Second-person observation speaks the "you" in compassion and gentleness, powerfully connecting the persons behind the "I" and the "you."

Some of the ideas for this article come from these works:

Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzer. Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2013.

Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzer. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes Are High. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Copyright 2014 Wilma Zalabak