Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is all about apply intelligence to your emotions. A person with a high EQ is able to better navigate social situations, for example, than one with a lower EQ. Maintaining a high EQ becomes more difficult when it comes to dealing with difficult conversations. To maintain a high EQ, one needs to listen and not talk. Knowing the secret of the 3 Magic Words will help. (I can’t remember the source where I first read about this – if you can help, let me know!)
The 3 Magic Words are “help me understand.” These 3 words have the power to turn a difficult conversation into a much less difficult one. They might not seem so powerful now. But think about it, and try it out, and you’ll find their magic.
Some fundamentals first. Let’s make some obvious statements about how to deal with a difficult conversation:
* don’t accuse the other person
* don’t assume the other person made the mistake – maybe you have the facts wrong
* focus on the problem, not the person
If you begin the conversation by saying ‘help me understand’ you immediately begin the conversation by listening. You avoid the problem of blaming. And you make it clear that you generally want to understand what is going on. An example will help….
Let’s say you are dealing with a student who is disrupting class. Your immediate reaction is ‘How could you have done this for the 3rd time!”. The the student stares back in silence. As an alternative, let’s say you start the conversation instead with “Help me understand what’s going on back there – I hear more talking than I’d like.” The student might then reply that he was having trouble hearing and was asking another student for help. You avoided blaming. Or, the student might reply that he was sorry – your approach allowed him to hear what you were saying, and not that you were being harsh.
The use of the 3 Magic Words change the direction of the conversation. They prepare you to listen and help you to not assume. They also make it safer for the other party to admit failure. All good stuff. And this promotes better learning. They assure that you focus on improving the situation, and not in staking your claim to being right.
This has application to relationships, management, and of course, teaching. As teachers it is important to use the 3 Magic Words for example, when a student disappoints. If a student surprises you by not paying attention for example, start by showing the empathy that comes from them. See if that improves your listening, and the respect you get from your students.