When you hear resistance or some other feeling-reaction to your I-Message, you’ll need to make a quick shift and back off from a sending/assertive posture to a listening/understanding posture. Such a shift will communicate, “I want to be sensitive to the feelings my assertiveness brought out in you.” “I can delay trying to get what I want and listen to what you’re feeling now.”
This shifting gears (think of it as shifting from a going-forward gear to a backing-up gear) lets others know you are not out to get your needs met at their expense. Although you’re not ready to abandon your needs, you want to empathize and understand the nature of the problem your assertive I-Message caused the person to whom it was directed. This often leads to seeking a mutually acceptable solution.
Shifting gears often causes an immediate dissolution of others’ resistant feelings. Having their feelings acknowledged seems to help others decide on their own to modify their behavior. People find it easier to change if they feel the other person understands how hard it might be. Here is a dialogue that illustrates shifting gears and the immediate effects it has:
Self: I’m concerned about our progress and think we need to spend more time on this project if we’re going to finish it by the deadline.
Other: You gotta be kidding! I worked on it all weekend!
Self: You’re feeling like you’re already putting in a lot of time.
Other: Yeah…I didn’t even have time to go to my daughter’s soccer game.
Self: You don’t feel like there is any more time to give to it.
Self: I sure can relate to that! We’ve both put in a lot of time already. The thing is the deadline is Monday and I’m worried that unless we put in more time, we won’t finish by then.
When you “shift gears” from assertiveness in order to defuse defensiveness or resistance from the other person, several important goals need to be achieved.
1. You want to demonstrate concern for and acceptance of the person who is now experiencing a problem as a result of your I-Message confrontation.
2. You want to understand the other person’s communication and let that person know that you do understand by feeding back his/her message.
3. You want to help the other ventilate, to release the negative feelings, to feel relieved.
4. You want to help the other take primary responsibility for handling the needs and feelings that are the basis of his or her defensiveness.
The primary skill for shifting gears is Active Listening. Active Listening is a restatement of the sender’s total communication (thoughts and feelings). It is the emphasis on feelings that distinguishes Active Listening from simple parroting or paraphrasing. Active Listening involves a carefully formed impression about the other person’s feelings (upset). An Active Listening response in essence says to the sender, “You seem to feel a certain way about some fact.” In this way the focus of understanding is shifted from external events to the other’s internal reactions or feelings about them.