One of the most common questions I get addressed with is how you can really get to the bottom of things when you communicate with someone This question is asked by managers who are in the process of improving their conflict resolution strategies, by salespeople who want to improve their selling abilities and by parents who feel they sometime hit a glass wall when communicating with their children.
I guess you can relate to this question too. During or after a difficult conversation you had with a friend, peer, subordinate, your spouse of your kid, being left with the feeling you've merely scratched the surface and not really able to touch a dormant issue. The other side wasn't cooperative and he either brushed you off when you've asked, changed the subject or mumbled a vogue avoiding answer.
Let me start with the obvious. If the other side decided that no matter what you do, he'll not be cooperative and share whatever it is you'd like him to share, then they won't. Accept it. Accepting it could impose quite of a challenge when you feel that if only your client would have revealed whatever it is that he's not revealing, you can close this sale or, probably harder, when you feel your teenage daughter isn't willing to share that she might be in some kind of trouble.
In a matter a fact, the first thing you must do in order to get to the bottom of things is to give up your desire to know. The need to know is a selfish human need. In most of the cases the need to know will be covered with self convections such as "If I'll know, then I'll be able to help" or "my job requires me to know" yet if you'll allow yourself to ponder these convictions that you might find out that in most of the cases they are only fig leaf (barely) covering your need for control, your curiosity or, God forbid, the tabloid part in you. By concentrating on that selfish need to know, or its nephew, the need to understand, you're blocking yourself from connecting to the other side. Rapport will never bud when one expresses his agenda. Rapport flourishes only when one is able to move aside his selfish agenda and clear the space to the other side. Indeed, nobody promises you that the other side will reciprocate your 'non action' the fact that you move your agenda aside and share whatever it is he's not revealing. Yet, it is clear that by doing so facilitating rapport by moving your agenda aside you increase the chances he will.
Moving your agenda will enable you to focus on the other side with nothing but your intention of 'letting be'. This is by far easier written than done as you'll discover, again and again over the course of the conversation, your need to express your opinion, share your point of view or suggest one of your solutions. This is your ego raising its head coveting the front stage spot lights again. Only by managing your ego can you effectively use communication tools like open ended questions. Open ended questions the W/H questions as they are also known will encourage the other side to share his point of view as long as they are asked on the thing he said. Listen to what the other side is saying and ask her open ended question on what she just said "how does (what she said) makes you feel?" or "what brought you to the conclusion that (what he said)?"
The need to know and understand will appear if you hear things that trigger your curiosity and the need to criticize will appear if you hear things that contradict your point of view. You already know what to do with urges. Right? If you succumbed to these selfish needs, and occasionally you will, you'll at least know why you didn't get to the bottom of things.
Quite often the participants in my workshops look at me and challenge me with "do you really think that my kids will share their life with me if I'll do what you offer ? They'll look at me as if I'm crazy!" When such a question rises, and it does in almost every workshop, I look at the participants with a somewhat sad look and ask them back "if your kids would regard you as crazy when you demonstrate simple, most basic, communication skills, what does it mean about the way you are currently communicating with them?"
Never in all the many years I've been delivering conflict resolution strategies workshop or negotiation tactics workshop have I had someone answering the above question. Most of the times the room stays silent as the participants realize that there is something awfully wrong in the way they communicate with their surrounding environment. In this minute they fully realize that the option to get to the bottom of things in (almost) every conversation not only depends on them, and them alone, but it also requires a fundamental change in the way they communicate.
Too simplistic you say? Moving one's agenda and using open ended questions will enable us to improve our conflict resolution strategies and get to the bottom of things when having difficult conversations?
The answer is yes! Indeed, effective communication has more to it than the above suggested perception and tool, but yet, applying them will improve your conflict resolution strategies dramatically. A (soft) blow under the belt. The more trivial the suggested ideas seem to you, the less you understand and hence implement them. The ability to move one's agenda aside for example is synonymous with managing one's own ego, if that's a trivial thing then I don't know what isn't