3 Step Approach to Being Heard
We have something to say. Something important to say. But somehow it
just doesn’t land. Maybe we do say what we need to say to the other
person, but they don’t listen. Maybe we lose track of what we are saying
in the middle of saying it and the conversation goes on a completely
different tack. And maybe we know what we want to say but just can’t
find a way to start.
Any of these resonate with you?
I’d like to share with you a three step approach that will likely have the
other person ready to hear what you have to say.
You might well be familiar with the ideas below but the point here is to
have a systematic approach. Being haphazard when the conversation or
the relationship is difficult, or the stakes are high won’t help you land your
all important message.
STEP ONE: PREPARE
This is the most important step of all and it takes place before you are
even with the person you want to speak to. You need to take the time to
think through what you are going to say.
We are familiar with those conversations we have in the middle of the
night, ruminating over and over again about what we want to say; or
more precisely what we think the other person deserves to hear! Whilst
these thoughts are part of human nature and goodness knows I have
indulged in them myself, preparing your thoughts for an important
conversation is quite different.
Give yourself some time and some space where you can think through
what is going on for you. It’s well known that physical movement aids
thinking so if you can, put your shoes on and go for a walk. This really
helps me, but if I’m busy with domestic chores I might also talk it through
(yes, out loud!) while I do the washing up or the ironing.
The questions you are going to ask yourself here are:
● What am I feeling?
● Where does this feeling come from?
● What is the most important issue here?
● What do I want from the other person?
I have another post planned that can walk you through this process in
more detail. Reflective practice is a really good way of getting to the heart
of what is going on for you when when you are in the midst of
uncomfortable feelings. But for now, thinking through these questions will
help you get your thinking in order.
As you think about the situation, you will probably find there are a
number of things you want to say. JUST CHOOSE ONE. You could go for
the easiest one, but it’s more fruitful to go for the one that makes you
feel nervous! That’s a sign that it is important to you. If you layer point
after point the other person is likely to feel overwhelmed, and you are far
more likely to lose your way.
Another important part of this process is to avoid blaming the other. Just
work out how you feel, where those feelings come from, and what you
want from the other person. That isn’t to say that you can’t express anger
or frustration. Just do what you can to avoid blame as this is a surefire
way of closing the other person’s ears before you even start.
Not sure of the difference between sharing your frustration and blaming
someone else? A quick rule of thumb is to check how much you are
framing what you want to say in terms of your own experience or in
terms of the other’s behaviour. So, rather than ‘Why did you make that
that decision without consulting me? You only think about yourself.’ you
might say ‘It’s so frustrating when I’m left out of decisions that have an
impact on me. I feel undervalued.’
Once you have chosen the one point you want to say, you can phrase it in
your head without getting stuck into blaming, and you know what you
want from the other person, you are ready for the next step.
STEP TWO: SET THE SCENE
Create the right moment and choose the right space!
I’m sure you know this one but it’s amazing how often we forget. I can
still broach an important topic with my partner when she is distracted by
work, the children are playing in the background and the telly is on, so it
is worth a reminder. Make sure you are somewhere:
● Quiet enough
● Private enough
I say quiet and private enough as the requirement will vary depending on
the context. So for example if I wanted to have a conversation with one
of my senior colleagues I would email to arrange a zoom meeting at a
mutually convenient time. If I wanted to say something to my teenage
son I would set up the opportunity for us to be doing an activity or a
chore together so we could talk together in a relaxed way without the
tension and formality of being face to face. The first option is more
structured and timebound. I know I’ll be talking to my colleague at 10:30
on Wednesday. With my son, though, I will have in mind that I need to
find the opportunity as it arises and that will mean holding the
conversation in mind for a day or so.
So you are face-to-face, earpiece to earpiece, or side by side with the
other person. Now what?
This is the moment where we often get stuck. Should you launch right in?
Or maybe talk about the weather for a bit? Perhaps it would be good to
ask them how their day is going? Well, asking about family or work
projects or referencing something in the news is a matter of cultural
preference and personal taste. It’s definitely important to establish an
atmosphere of warmth and goodwill and sometimes all you need for that
is a smile. But whilst it is polite and helpful to spend time connecting, at
some point you have to transition into the topic at hand. And when you
want to be heard Step 3 is really important.
STEP 3: SHARE YOUR PURPOSE
This is where your state your intention for the conversation and give
some context. It might sound something like this:
‘John, I want to talk to you about something I found in your room last
‘Sarah, I have been feeling anxious about the project deadline recently
and I’d really like to talk to you about it.’
‘Darling, we’ve been talking a lot recently about all the things we would
like to do together in the future and how well suited we are for each
other, and so... there’s something I really want to ask you!’
A couple of things to notice here. One is the use of the name (or
endearment for the hopeful individual in example 3!). This can be a really
effective way of signalling that you want to shift the conversation into a
different gear. If the other person has been talking without giving you any
airspace, gently using their name can also stop the flow of words without
Notice also that the context is really,really brief. This is your headline,
after all. Once you have said it, STOP TALKING until the other person has
given you their full attention. Then you can share the point you want to
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you go through these steps and
say your piece and leave, like some kind of mic drop. That only works in
TV shows. Saying what you want to say so that the other person can hear
it is the start of a longer conversation.
Drop me a line below if you have any questions. And if you try it out, I’d
love to hear how it went!