Last night I got a frustrated email from a student in my class who, because of a miscommunication with her partner, had turned in an incomplete assignment. She said she absolutely did not want to be graded with that student, just on her independent work. Both she and her partner are diligent students who have a really hard time working with their peers.
To get them each to a place where they could have a conversation with one another, I pulled them separately to talk alone. I then asked them to explain what had happened, what they could own, and what they would ask of their partner. After we dug into the problem from their perspective, I summarized back to them what they heard and checked to make sure I understood correctly, giving them the opportunity to add more or affirm that I had understood.
One of the most helpful mindfulness courses I have taken is Mindful School’s Mindful Communication course with Oren Jay Sofer. Through this class, I really was able to witness how incredibly difficult it is to stay present in conversation with others without trying to make them feel a particular way (even if that way is good) or do a specific thing. One of the tools I have found incredibly useful is to check for understanding with a reflective statement. This both allows the other person to feel heard and to make sure you really understand what they are trying to communicate.
At the risk of getting rigid, here are a few frames I use around reflective listening, which can be easily modified once there’s some comfort.
“Let me just see if I understand correctly…”
“…Is that right?”
“…Did I get it all?”
“…Is there anything that I missed?”
Having these tools handy frees me to fully listen to the person in front of me, without needing to formulate a response beyond just hearing from them.
Now I just become more skillful at using this with my family….