I once spoke with a man who was a supervisor in a nuclear power plant. As a matter of protocol, whenever he gave anyone instructions, the person listening would have to echo back what was said to make sure they heard it correctly. That made sense to me–you don’t want to get it wrong when it comes to a nuclear reactor! I mean we don’t want it to blow up or anything, right?
Then I thought, what about the nuclear family? We don’t want that to blow up either! What if developing good listening skills between husband and wife, and parents and children required echoing back what the other said–particularly when working through conflict? Here is what I mean:
A conflict happens. One person tries to tell the other person why they are upset but before long, the one listening interrupts telling their side of things. That never goes over well. Before long both are arguing back and forth with no one listening. Voices raise or the conversation is shut down. Either way, the anger is not dealt with. It simply goes underground building up pressure for another time.
What went wrong? True listening did not take place. Think again of my opening illustration. What would happen if the worker interrupted the nuclear supervisor while getting instructions? The worker most likely would miss valuable information that could lead to a disaster. The same is true in dialoguing or processing conflict with your spouse. One party and then the other misses vital information or misinterprets what is said. And it leads to a melt down.
For healthy conversation to take place, as hard as it is when one person is speaking, the listener MUST not interrupt but remain quiet until the person is finished talking. To aid in this, the person listening agrees that before he can say anything in return, he/she will first have to echo back what was said. This forces the listener to listen well and helps develop listening skills.
Another benefit to echoing back what another has said, is that in doing so it reveals both to you (when you’re the listener) as well as to the one talking whether or not you heard correctly. We all want to be heard for what we say and mean, but don’t always communicate very clearly. Echoing back makes it clear whether or not the one speaking needs to clarify further.
To better those listening skills keep the following in mind this week when a meaningful conversation takes place or a conflict occurs:
- If you are the listener, focus entirely on what the other is saying so that when they are done speaking you can echo back to them what they said.
- Ask them if you heard correctly. If they say no or even hesitate in their response, ask what you missed and then go back to listening again.
- Only after you have listened well enough to echo back correctly what you heard should you consider sharing your thoughts on the matter. The reason this is so important is that the one speaking won’t feel ready to listen to you if you haven’t first listened well to them.
Following this pattern is a sure way to better your listening skills. It will also take you one step further to understanding the necessary ingredients for good communication AND walking through conflict in a healthy and love-filled manner.
Echoing is third in the order of six necessary steps in processing conflict. You can read and/or watch the first two steps here:
Pause When Conflict Happens! (Do This First!)
Leave a comment below on how well you echoed this week and the difference it made–AND/OR email me with any questions you might have. I want to do all I can to help!