by Dan Weyerhaeuser, Senior Pastor
“My problem is not that I don’t understand you. My problem is that I don’t agree with you.” These two sentences, spoken by my dear and loving wife, were revolutionary for me. They opened the door for a breakthrough, not only about a disagreement, but for a way of relating to each other we had never known.
For these weeks, I am sharing a “conversation strategy” that builds bridges of trust with others and develops friendships. The R.E.A.D. strategy (see below) seems so simple, but it is a powerful and skillful way to actually love another person with whom you are talking. R stands for “repeat” and calls us to “Repeat what the person shared until they agree you heard them.”
Many of us have heard for years that when you are communicating, especially in conflict, we should repeat back what the other person shares before we speak. Often we don’t. While the other person is speaking, we are often “re-loading” with our rebuttal. Or we say, “Yeah, yeah, I understand what you are saying, but….”
However, you build a bridge of trust, rather than erode it, when you are actually listening to the other person and making sure you understand what they are saying so that you respond to their actual position and not your assumption of it. Key: You repeat back what they have said, until they agree you got it right.
A few weeks ago, I shared the benefits of doing this. Today, I’m sharing a time with Lisa “Repeated” my words and it immediately ended a cycle of miscommunication and conflict. (And if this works in conflict, it will work in any communication).
On only a few occasions have my wife and I had unresolved issues that lasted. We were in the middle of one of those, trying to make a parenting decision for one of our boys. If you are a parent, you know that disagreements of this kind are amped up because its about your children.
We had been talking about our different opinions for several weeks. On the day in question, I began again with sharing my opinion (which I had shared in the past). Lisa stopped me and said, “Dan, I know what you are going to say.” She then repeated my position perfectly. She got what I was saying and why I was saying it. I was overjoyed! I replied, “YES! You got it” thinking we were now on the same page.
It was then she replied, “My problem is not that I don’t understand. My problem is that I don’t agree.” That was so helpful for me, and for us. Lisa had a completely different opinion with valid points as well. But I suddenly realized we did not have an understanding problem. The result? We moved into a new “phase” of conversation, which essentially was, “If we hold these different opinions (both of which have validity), what will we then do?” Put in other words, “If this is the hand we have been dealt, how will we play it together?”
That was revolutionary for our marriage, because from that moment forward, we approached the unresolved issue as partners, even though we were disagreeing partners. We realized that there is a “convince” each other phase, and then a “let’s work as partners” phase to conflict. We realized we could “cross the line” and be united through our conflict. Revolutionary!
While I am speaking here about communication through conflict, I believe if you can negotiate that well, you can negotiate any communication well. And the first powerful thing you can do through it all is to Repeat what the other person is sharing until they agree you have it. I was on the receiving end that day, and it built trust between Lisa and I.
As you develop friendships with all of the people you encounter every day, I counsel you to try to get in the habit of making sure you understand what you are hearing. This means concentration and holding off on your sharing until you have heard them. But if you do, if you listen well, and show it by repeating back what others are sharing, your conversations will build closeness.