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No. 32 – Staying with the Other Person

July 6, 2011

If you are a typical health physicist rushing from one crisis or deadline to the next, you probably think that you do not have time for subtleties in communication. In our hurried world, it often seems best to say what we have to say quickly in order to get on with our long to-do list. This is especially true when the communication will likely result in conflict and stress.

On the other hand, a little extra effort in communication could work like an investment with dividends accruing in good will and better radiation safety performance. The extra effort I am referring to is the effort to stay with the other person long enough to satisfy some of the needs on his agenda.

Everyone has their own needs, goals, wants, hopes, and dreams, as well as anxieties, frustrations, and fears. Staying with the other person means tuning in to the needs and what is getting in the way of meeting those needs. This does not mean that you have to do anything about them. Typically, health physicists do not want to deal with issues involving feelings because they do not know what to do with them. The good news is that you do not have to do anything, just stay with the other person to let them express themselves.

Reflective Listening

You do this by only responding with observations or questions that reflect what the other person says or does. You do not switch to you own agenda. You ask questions, such as, “What does this mean for you?” “How do you feel about that?” “What’s going on?” “Tell me more about that.” “How does this affect you?” “What would you like?” “What is getting in the way?” “Help me to understand.” you do not respond with your own feelings, what you would do, or what you believe is the answer.

After you have satisfied some of the other person’s needs, then it is appropriate to begin sharing your own. By staying with the other person first, you have earned the opportunity to present your case. Furthermore, you can now do so with useful insights into areas of common needs and frustrations. This process establishes rapport based on showing the other person that you care. By this approach you begin to build a relationship for respect and cooperation.

Next time we will look at five steps for gaining cooperation with difficult persons.

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