I’ve started assembling the “Facilitator’s Workspace” on my new private website template for ITC groups.
The private site: http://worlditcnet-private.weebly.com
When your spouse or friend or ITC colleague is angry or sad or otherwise troubled, dissonance can disturb the harmony of your marriage or friendship or ITC group.
Well, duh, you say? Been there, done that?… over and over again, perhaps?
Then maybe it’s time to start working on a solution.
Yes, there’s work involved… especially for men… especially for people who are not auditory learners.
Why? Because the work involves listening (which doesn’t come easily to most visual learners)… and it involves empathy (which doesn’t come easily to most men).
An ITC group facilitator needs to learn the art of reflective listening, also called empathetic communication.
(Me? I’m a man, and I’m a visual learner and an intuitive learner… definitely not an auditory learner. If I can learn to listen with empathy, anyone probably can. I’m learning the skill and practicing it with my wife as I write this article, and I’ll talk more about that at the end.)
So when members of an ITC group are having troubles in their personal lives, or if a conflict between members spirals out of control, the facilitators can somehow convey this message to the members:
Our first job is to embrace and understand your point of view.
Then the work begins.
In reflective listening, your goal is not to solve the members’ problems, because, really, none of us humans has the experience and wisdom and good ideas to do that. Your purpose is just to gently break down emotional blocks… to get to the core of the members’ repressed emotions that are blocking the solution. As you empathize with members’ emotions and points of view, they suddenly feel deeply understood, a weight is lifted off their shoulders, and the energy that was used to repress those hard feelings can now be redirected to solving the problem.
Your empathy can give disputing members a little boost that helps them solve their own problems.
Reflective listening is like a magic salve for heartbreak and frustration. It doesn’t heal emotional wounds instantly—nothing does—but it soothes the pain, stops the festering, and lets the healing begin.
Here’s how it works.
When members approach you with their problems, or when they criticize other members (for example, you notice insults exchanged in chat rooms, or you get an email from a member who expresses a grievance about another member), you’ll probably need to get in touch with each member individually… to discuss to their issues.
That is best done face to face. In the case of a worldwide ITC network, it can be done in a Skype session (video chat via computers). Phone calls, emails, and online chats probably won’t work as well for reflective listening, because you’ll miss some of the nuances expressed in body language and voice… but if they’re the only options available, they’re worth a try.
Here are some steps to reflective listening that I’ve adapted for an ITC group facilitator who’s not necessarily an auditory learner and who’s not, by nature, empathetic, but is willing to stretch himself in that direction:
- Start by listening with compassion and empathy. Open your heart. When the member describes the problem, reply in a genuine, heart-felt way with a few simple, empathetic words such as, “That must be frustrating.” Let the member then go into more detail. Encourage more detail.
- Next, empathize even more. Move your own opinions, values, and beliefs to the back burner as you absorb and assimilate their message. Try to understand their values and beliefs and imagine them as your own, even if you don’t agree with them. This isn’t easy at first, but the more you practice it, the easier it gets. It’s like changing the operating system on your computer… from Microsoft Windows to Apple OS X… and then training your mental programs and apps to be agile and compatible with both systems. Not easy, but doable.
- As you begin to empathize, begin reflecting back what the member is saying to you. If you don’t fully understand what they’re saying, you can just mirror the message back in the same words. But if you think you understand what they’re saying, it’s better to restate the message in your own words (paraphrase).
- Then, determine whether the member thinks you got it right. Did you grasp their message correctly? If not, repeat step 3. If you did get the message right, repeat steps 1 through 3 to dig deeper into the problem.
- Repeat the steps until the member feels fully heard and understood. Again, your aim is not to fix the problem, but to be an empathetic sounding board with on open heart. Then, hopefully, the problem will begin to heal in natural course.
Here are some good sources for the art of reflective listening:
- My favorite comes from Psychology Today. This lady (Jessica Grogan) nails it… even starts with a good joke about the process.
- This guy (Dalmar Fisher, a professor at Boston College) gets into the step-by-step, examines pitfalls and offers scenario examples.
- Here’s another good synopsis, from Ty Pedr’s SkillsYouNeed website.
Reflective listening comes easier to women than to men… easier to auditory learners than to visual learners… but I suspect (or at least hope) that they can be learned by just about anyone.
I plan to find out very soon.
I’m a visual-learning male who tends to hide his emotions, and I’m married to an emotional woman who sometimes needs to vent her feelings. That difference has caused lots of tense moments in our home. When Regina gets sad I get nervous… because it’s probably not going to end well.
Here’s a typical scenario:
Regina comes home frustrated after an evening out with the girls, tearfully explaining how something said over dinner hurt her feelings. Here are some of my replies on recent occasions:
- “You know, it doesn’t sound like a very big deal? Can you just forget about it and move on?”
- “I think you need different friends.”
- “Maybe you should call Cheryl.” (a close, long-time friend of my wife’s)
All of these replies just made Regina feel worse and me more helpless.
Regina sometimes told me, “I don’t want you to solve my problem, just listen.”
So then I just silently listened… and listened… and listened some more… and there seemed to be no end in sight. Tensions and frustrations built, often for an hour or more… until maybe I yelled and she cried. Then we apologized, kissed, and made up… and a semblance of peace was restored.
Hardly a good solution.
So in the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying this new approach, reflective listening.
When Regina starts venting, I switch to empathy mode. I begin with a stock reply, spoken with genuine concern, “Wow, that’s got to be frustrating.”
As if by magic, that simple statement defuses the sadness and anger and frustration that starts to build up between us. Things seem more peaceful, instantly.
Now I’m actually looking forward to the next time Regina gets emotional (it’s just a matter of time, since we’re only human), because I want to start practicing all of the steps in reflective listening.
And whatever I learn I’ll use to polish up this page of the website.