Communication is a dynamic exchange that often takes unexpected twists and turns. When tensions rise and things get abrasive in a conversation, it’s time to listen differently.

This approach isn’t just for external interactions but can also be incredibly effective for intrapersonal communication. It’s about recognizing what both parties are over-signaling—warmth or competence—and responding in a way that benefits everyone involved.

The Over-Signaling Question

To embark on this transformative journey, start by asking yourself a crucial question: “What are they over-signaling, and what am I over-signaling?” Is it warmth or competence that’s taking center stage? Once you’ve identified the emphasis, you’re ready to navigate the conversation more effectively.

One clear indicator of over-signaling competence is when someone transforms into an unnecessary fact-checker or a know-it-all, attempting to convince you of something you already know. Surprisingly, this behavior often stems from a desire to demonstrate their competence and knowledge. It’s their way of saying, “I want you to see that I’m competent and reliable.”

The Empathetic Response

When you notice someone over-signaling competence, it’s crucial to respond empathetically and with understanding. Address each instance individually, rather than dealing with them en masse. A key strategy is to ask, “You’re pretty certain of that. Can you tell me more about it?” This question invites them to share their perspective and fosters a more productive dialogue.

The Synchronization Effect

In many situations, what often occurs is that you’re inadvertently signaling competence to someone who craves trust, or signaling trust to someone eager to be recognized for their competence. This experiment helps you align with the other person’s needs and steer the conversation in a more constructive direction.

Active Listening: A Key Component

Another crucial aspect of this approach is listening intently and with the genuine intent to learn. When the other person responds to your questions, don’t dismiss their answers; instead, listen, learn, grow, and adapt based on what you hear.

Listening differently is a potent tool for navigating abrasive conversations. By recognizing and addressing the signals of over-signaling—whether warmth or competence—you can create a more empathetic and productive dialogue.

The next time tensions rise, remember to ask yourself the essential question and listen with a receptive heart and mind. It could be the key to unlocking more harmonious and effective communication.