Communication is challenging at the best of times. In a difficult conversation it can become impossible. Whilst there are many skills which can improve communication, there are two which I would like to focus on for this series, this week: acknowledgment.
Acknowledgement is a quiet superpower. We can all think of times when we were communicating something emotional / difficult and where we were acknowledged by the other person. It makes us feel heard, as if they understand what we are trying to communicate. it creates a sense of connection and rapport. In a difficult conversation, it can seem counterintuitive (or even impossible) to create rapport, however, the chances of creating a learning conversation are enhanced if the other person does not feel under attack. If we want to have a constructive conversation rather than a chance to blame / judge then one step is to acknowledge the other person's feelings.
Acknowledgement does not mean agreeing with everything they are saying, or agreeing that we are fault. However, it is a way of acknowledging that we have heard the underlying emotional content of their communication and that we accept this is how they feel.
Acknowledgments do not need to be lengthy or complicated. A simple statement such as "I can hear that you are ..." / "It sounds like..." can start to build the bridge of communication. If you are mistaken and the emotion is not correct, they will tell you. That's great - keep trying. I use acknowledgment in mediation all the time to let the person speaking how that I have received the message. You can see people visibly relax when they feel that you are trying to understand them and acknowledge how they feel.