One of my favorite philosophers, Mr. Rogers has a good suggestion when it comes to stress. This, I must confess, sounds easy but is not. When we see others under stress, it is easy to be compassionate and understanding. At least for a person reading this blog I assume it would be. However, if you are one of two or even several people involved in a stressful situation, this becomes quite a bit more difficult. There are two parts of this equation and I think we deserve to look at each of them here briefly.
The first part tell us in times of stress we should listen with our ears and our hearts. This means not only hearing the words the person is saying, but really doing our best to understand where they are coming from. We should never make assumptions and always ask for clarity if we do not understand. We should also be aware that in a stressful situation, most things said that seem angry, hurtful, or just plain mean, can be veiled cries for help. Not everyone is skilled at communicating in regular situations, much less when they are under stress. When we think of listening with our hearts, that involves a great deal of compassion for the person sitting across from us (or on the phone, or in a text or email) This can prove very difficult especially if that person seems to be attacking us or, as Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “Using biblical terms in a very unreligious way.” This difficulty is multiplied several times if we also happen to be under stress. What a difference it would make if we were able to accomplish it? Even putting forth the effort will make a great impact.
The second part is just as important. We must be assured that our questions are as important as our answers. When we provide an answer, we are more addressing the other party’s concern that getting an answer to our own. How great does it feel to know that our feelings and concerns are important to the party we are talking to? How do we think the other party would act if they felt their questions and concerns were not as important as our own? I can’t imagine the discussion would be very healthy or productive. We must not only tell the other party their questions are important, we must also show them. We do so by repeating them back to make sure we are addressing them. By listening, not just to reply, but to understand. This is a small difference that has a huge impact on the conversation.
While involved in a stressful discussion, let us do our best to remember the party we are involved in the discussion with has feelings and concerns that they need to know are important. They need to be heard with both our ears and our hearts. It is not easy, especially if we are also under stress, but it is necessary. We may not succeed 100% of the time, but that does not mean we shouldn’t do our best 100% of the time. It may help to sing this very popular song from Mr. Rogers before we begin our discussion.