Communication and Being Connected, Education

5 Steps to Follow When Dumbfounded

I imagine most people want what I want…to feel important, like I belong, to have some freedom, to have fun, and to have my basic needs met. In Choice Theory terms, these needs are called power, love and belonging, freedom, fun, and survival. We all want these few, simple things. Yet, they are not so simple. Not simple at all–wars have been fought over these five needs.

I have been confronted with some pretty ridiculous things in my life…bet you have too. Those things that leave you confounded and temporarily speechless. If you know me, you know that my speechlessness last for just microseconds. I have a recipe I follow when I am listening to others, and I follow it closely when I am dumbfounded.

  1. What is this person really saying?
  2. What does this person really want?
  3. What positives am I hearing?
  4. Communicate understanding
  5. Make a plan to move forward

What is the person really saying? Often the person is telling me about how they have been wronged in some way, and if I really listen, I will hear what they are saying.

I feel like I do not belong.     

I feel like a bad parent.     

I don’t know what to do next.

What does the person really want? Once I hear the message, I can ask some questions to figure out what the person really wants, and it is most often power. People get upset when they feel out of whack–what they want is not matching up with reality and they feel powerless to change it. The powerlessness stems from the fact that we cannot control anyone but ourselves, and that is a hard thing to accept.

Moving forward can only come once there is acceptance of what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled.

What positives am I hearing? You may laugh when I say this, but when I say look for positives, I mean it. I mean it for the person who is so mad that they are spitting in my face. I may have to compliment someone for not cursing at me, or for sitting down with me, but I find something. A quick, “I can tell how difficult this situation is for you, and I appreciate that you came in to talk it over.”

Communicate understanding. When I communicate the understanding, I am careful not to assume I have that understanding, so I ask questions. I may say, “Let me sum up what I think I am hearing you say…”. I do not do this until I am relatively certain that I do have that understanding, or I will hurt the trust we have built and we will have to start over.

I have seen my fair share of trials and tribulations, so I often can relate to the person with a story of my own and how I overcame the situation. I try to keep it brief, however, because the conversation is not about me, it is about the other person.

Make a plan to move forward. The plan should not be my plan, but I can certainly ask questions that may lead to ideas. “What do you see as the next step?”, or “What other information do you need before you decide what to do next?” are great ways to start the process to empower the person and make a positive step in the right direction. Making sure the plan is simple, immediate, and based only on what can be controlled is crucial for the success of the plan.

Thank you to my PLN for inspiring me to reflect on my practices, and thank you to the late great Dr. William Glasser for all of his books and work to understand human behavior. These are the steps that have worked for me, what steps have worked for you?

2 thoughts on “5 Steps to Follow When Dumbfounded”

  1. Allyson,

    I love these steps and how you put potentially negative situations in a positive frame. Thanks for sharing and helping me grow!



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