“The more I think someone isn’t listening to me, the angrier I get. The louder I get.” She said this, well, quite loudly.
I was chatting recently with a woman exec named K. She’d called about some conflict management coaching and I had asked her what most trips her up in difficult conversations at home or work.
“So,” I replied, once the echo on the phone line had died down, “you tend to raise your voice when you don’t feel heard?” Talk about stating the obvious. She was succinct: “Yes. And I think it scares people sometimes.” Pause. “It scares me. I don’t like that I do it.”
K. isn’t alone. Lots of people get loud when they don’t feel heard. It’s like there’s something inside some of us that says, “They don’t hear you. Say it again, but raise your voice this time so they’ll notice.”
This very same thing came up in a class of mine last spring, and several grad students nodded in agreement when one mentioned this tripwire. More than a few of them were women. What to do, what to do?
Shouting, of course, pretty much guarantees the wrong result: The more you raise your voice, the more wrong kind of attention you get. This is what K decided to do with some support from me:
Come up with a pre-determined line to use when you find yourself losing it. Something like, “I’m realizing I’m losing my temper because I have the impression you’re not really listening to me. Can you tell me what I just said so that I know you’re listening?” It should be something you can pull out of the hat when you need it, even if it sounds rehearsed. When you notice your voice rising, or the other person looking like a deer in the headlights, say it. Just say it. It can help you bridge the noticing of frustration and getting yourself back under control.
Rehearsed is usually better than loud.