“You feel…because…” it’s an odd formula, isn’t it? Yet I can remember sitting around with a group of people, and learning to use it routinely. We were all marriage counsellors in training practising a fundamental skill for the work we were going to do.
Thus: “You feel hurt because your wife nags you for staying on late at work.” or “You feel ashamed because you can’t control the children”.
There’s method in the madness. People who have needs (and who hasn’t?) are unlikely to be open to change if their feelings are not first understood. We need to know – and show we have understood – where people are coming from.
I was once under the impression that I was a good listener. But in truth, while I was apparently listening I was working out what my neat answer was going to be. The outcome was that people nodded at my speedy solution or argued back. Either way they left me unhelped.
I have instanced a formal helping situation, but the same approach applies in a whole range of situations. We might be talking to children, a spouse, an old friend or someone we chat with in the supermarket. It may sound like a sort of social trick – along the lines of Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People (a book on conducting personal relationships which has never been bettered), but it is much more important than that.
We are enjoined to love people as we love ourselves. But this doesn’t mean that we benefit people in the ways which benefit us. What it means is that we should benefit others in the way they need to be benefited. And how do we find out what that would be? The best start is to listen to them, and reflect our understanding of what they have said to us. The very fact that we have understood and uncritically accepted what they have said, encourages them to say more. In doing so, we learn more. And the speaker learns more as he or she begins to refine and develop their thinking. As one wise priest said to me: we don’t know what we think until we’ve said it.
But don’t take my word for it. Try a simple exercise. Unless you are a hermit, you will find opportunities even this very day to respond to someone who expresses something of moment. Remember the formula “you feel…because…” even if you don’t use the exact words. Here are a couple of examples:
“You’re irritated because I don’t put books away when I’ve read them.” (To my wife 5 minutes ago),
“You’re bright today because the grandchildren are coming to tea.”
You won’t find it easy because we have to stifle our own egos to do this. But give it a few tries and report back. If you make it a habit you will truly win friends and influence people, but in the best possible way.