by Dan Weyerhaeuser, Senior Pastor
“YES! It DOES! I’ve been amaz-!”
It was at that moment that Dr. McKay stopped talking, grinned, pointed his finger at me, and gave me a knowing look. Dr. Dave McKay, a former professor at TIU who is now with our Lord, taught “Communication Skills” to undergrad and graduate students for years at Trinity International University. On seven occasions, my wife Lisa served as Dave’s Teaching Assistant in this class.
Lisa has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and was in private practice as a counselor in Dave’s group for several years before we had children. It was through her (and Dave) that I learned about “accurate empathy” and the “verbal” listening skills that the R.E.A.D. communication strategy are based upon. For years as our youth pastor, I taught our students communication skills as a series for our youth group. It turned out to be a helpful series every time, because students learned to communicate better with the people in their worlds — something we all need, but especially adolescents.
So one day when I found myself in line at the cafeteria at TIU behind Dr. McKay, I thanked him for the impact of his class on students he had never met. Dave replied, “I have been surprised at how powerful that class has been in the lives of many students. I have heard again and again that it was one of the more important courses in their academic career for their own lives.”
Without thinking about it, I responded with “E” (repeat the person’s “Experience”) and said, “That must feel gratifying.” Dave responded immediately “YES! It DOES. I’ve been amaz-” Then Dave suddenly stopped and noted what had just happened between the two of us. Without realizing it at first, he had felt heard, understood, and empathized and responded with a greater depth of feeling. I had drawn him into deeper sharing by practicing the very technique he was speaking about.
When he realized I had just practiced the very technique he had taught for so long, and that we were actually talking about, and it instantly opened him up more, he stopped, grinned, and pointed his finger at me as if to say, “You got me.”
The truth is, I wasn’t trying to be clever at all. I had become so accustomed to trying to listen to what people were sharing and feeding back to them not only what they had said but how they were feeling, that it happened automatically. Dave and I just found it funny that the person who first taught me how to be accurate in my empathy to help people feel heard, felt heard by my accurate empathy and was himself drawn to deeper sharing automatically.
One clarification: When people learn about “a conversation strategy,” one reaction can be that it feels manipulative. Especially when you begin naturally entering into peoples’ experiences, you are drawing close to them. It is healing for people to tell their story, and to have another person hear their story.
Repeat, enter into their Experience. We will see in a few weeks how validating their experience (Affirm) is powerful. As you get better as a listener, you realize you can practice “caring” more than you actually care. In other words, this can feel fake to some people. My answer is that a person can certainly listen with more skill than they love. However, Paul prayed that our “love would grow in knowledge and depth of insight.” If we want to love someone, we are learning with the R.E.A.D. strategy how to do it well.
Keep practicing. Today, don’t only Repeat what someone is saying, but summarize their Experience and feed it back to them. You will be loving better if you do.