Posted by: Elizabeth Turrentine | January 17, 2014

Being Heard

What do you usually do when you have a disagreement with someone? Are you one that struggles to make your case, stumbling over words? Or do you just stay silent, smiling and nodding when you really want to scream? Or , perhaps you go to the other end of the spectrum and find yourself in the middle of an ugly scene, with yelling and profanities poisoning the air. Or do you just storm out, leaving the issue , only to have it raise its ugly head at yet another time? So how is the “usual way” working for you?

If this sounds familiar, there are some simple alternatives that help greatly. One technique is called “the broken record technique.” Remember the old 45s and 78 records? How when one of those records got scratched, it would skip back and repeat the same phrase over and over again? When you have trouble calmly expressing your thoughts, and you want to get another person to understand what you’re saying, the broken record approach can help. It requires some forethought, so you may need to say to whoever is involved, “Excuse me. I can’t think when I get upset like this. I need to think about it a bit.”

You can set a time to resume the discussion at a later time, or just say “Hold that thought.  I’ll be right back.”

What you do is think of a short, succinct sentence or phrase that expresses exactly what you want to say in this type of situation. When you have the capsule phrase well in mind, practice saying it to yourself, then go back and continue the conversation. Open by saying something like, “I’ve thought it over and (insert your capsule thought here).” Then STOP—say nothing else. The other person will come back with all the counterpoints. When there is a pause, you simply repeat your capsule and remain quiet. Let them talk, but don’t—no matter how compelled you feel to say more—get sucked into any discussion. Say only your capsule. After a few rounds of this exchange, the other party will finally be talked out and get the message. This is finally the point when you will see what it feels like to be heard. It’s pretty damned nice!

The thing is, it cuts short the process where each party goes on and on, repeating what has already been said and making no progress.

Shortly after I learned this technique explained in an assertiveness class, I had a chance to use it. I had some work done on my car, and according to some friends, the guy had significantly overcharged me. With one friend’s help, I composed a sentence stating what similar garages charged for the same job, and that I wanted a refund of the prevailing difference. By design, I arrived late in the afternoon the next day when people would be arriving to pick up their repaired cars. Sure enough, the small, cluttered office was crowded with customers. I waited my turn to speak to the manager and delivered my capsule, “You charged me X amount more than the job costs in other garages around here. I need for you to refund me the difference.”

He retorted in a slightly irritated tone, “Ma’am that’s our standard rate.”

I didn’t miss a beat, in a low, well-modulated voice, “But you charged me X amount more than this job costs in other garages around here. I need for you to refund me the difference.”

“Ma’am, I can’t help what other places charge. This is my price. I have overhead, and that is a fair price.” His voice ratcheted up a couple of notches.

Calmly, I restated my two sentences, “You charged me…”

By that time other customers were turning to see what was happening, not because my voice was raised, but because his was. Most likely, they were wondering what this burley guy was doing to this poor little woman. As the hum of conversation in the office quieted, the manager glanced around at the querulous faces staring back at him, and quickly sized up the scene. A few moments later I had my refund.

I have used the “broken record” many times in the years since and taught it to a number of people, but the technique has never given me such elated satisfaction as it did that afternoon. I realized for the first time, I could make myself heard—in a reasonable way.

Try it, you’ll like it.

Excerpted from my book  –  Climbing Mountains When You’re Over the Hill  –  Available on


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