Several weeks ago when running one of the student seminars we talked about how to communicate better with those we care about. Since families are also looking for the best way to stay connected without alienating the young adults they care about (not always an easy task for parents), it seemed like a good thing to share here as well. The anachronism, SLEAR, is a fun way to remember that the best way to talk is to listen first.

S – Shut Up (silence, stop, shush – all good s words if “shut up” seems harsh)

L – Listen

E – Empathize

A – Acknowledge

R – Respond

Probably the hardest of these five steps is the first one. As parents we have often felt we needed to step up and help our young people learn or navigate better in their lives. We’ve thought that was our job as the “older and wiser” one in the relationship. Yes, that was useful early on in our child’s life but now it often gets in the way of good communication. We are no longer the expert on our child and we certainly don’t always know exactly what thoughts they are having at a particular time. So, the first thing we need to do is to BE QUIET. There is so much for us to learn if we stop talking. Our silence allows another part of our brain to go into action.

Shutting up allows us to do the second step – LISTEN. But, what are we listening for? Besides the details of the comment, we want to listen for the feelings and thoughts of the other person.

Attempt to discover what is beneath the details. When we do that type of listening, we are moving a dialogue (two people talking at each other about something) into a conversation (two people sharing with each other). Conversational listening is about a desire to know the other person better and to understand what and how they experience things. The curiosity found in “listening to understand” rather than “listening to react” allows us to be less judgmental or opinionated. A much better way to communicate with those we care about.

If we were having a dialogue, this would typically be the time that we begin formulating our thoughts in response to the other person’s words. However, if we are listening with a desire to learn more about the other person, something different begins to happen inside of us. We begin to identify and relate to what the person is sharing. EMPATHIZE, the next step of effective communication, asks us to “put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.” In recovery, people change a great deal. Empathy gives us an opportunity to discover more deeply the ever-evolving person we care about and are listening to.

Empathic listening changes the mood of a conversation and creates a safer environment for each of us to share more intimately and personally.

Obviously, we cannot remain silent forever. Communication in relationships does require a response and is an important aspect of the conversation. But, what do we say? The most important thing to do first is to ACKNOWLEDGE. Acknowledge what you’ve heard. Acknowledge what you think the other person was trying to share with you. Acknowledge the feelings and thoughts you believe they were having. Bottom line, make sure that what you think you heard and are now reacting to is what the other person was trying to relay. Clarity is the foundation of good communication and when we acknowledge we get clarity. Acknowledgement also affirms the ultimate goal of understanding and caring connections.

Responding is the final step of good communication. We obviously have our own thoughts, feelings, and reactions to what the other person has said. Once we have listened, empathized, and acknowledged the other person, it is important that we meet them with a similar type of revelation. If we share our thoughts, feelings, and reactions with the same type of intention (loving understanding) we are creating a full circle of communication. True sharing and effective communication is a gift we give our relationships and ourselves. What better way to celebrate and grow with recovery in our family!