I read Julius Malema’s letter in Beeld (here’s an English version) today and spotted him doing the same thing I’ve been battling to balance recently…

Staying within earshot, but speaking up loud enough to be heard.

For what it’s worth, I’ll put money on Malema not having actually written this letter at all (perhaps he edited it?) – just YouTube any of his speeches before you disagree with me – but I digress.

The thing most people battle with, when we’re really trying to get a message across – wether it’s about convincing your best friend to wear those green jeans because she really has the ass for it, or disagreeing with your folks about gay marriage, or telling people on twitter that black-on-white-racism does exist – is really being heard, but that’s not the key.

I’ve spotted a golden thread, a central principle, let’s call it a “lesson” which has stood out in my own life and in the news stories I’ve read over the last few weeks: To be heard, you need to listen….

1. Reassure first. Especially if they already think they don’t agree with you. Understand them. And don’t think you can fake it – they’ll see right through you and then any chance for building that bridge of understanding will really be game over.

Most people are willing to simply agree to disagree, but only once they feel that you’ve shown a respectful amount of effort to try and understand. Stay within earshot, hear them, twist your ear if need be – but make the effort.

2. Acknowledge. Even simply repeating a message in your own words really gets that across. Stick around for it. Digest it. Invest your time, your consideration. Demonstrate it.

3. Then highlight the crucial difference between their opinion / position / behavior and yours. State it. Don’t apologize for it. Trust that you’ve positioned yourself within earshot – you’re receptive, but not submissive.

Going in like a bull in a china shop, stomping your feet and shooting invisible plumes of steam from your ears might secure the kind of instant release YOU seek, but it’s a sure way of destroying any of the common ground there might be up for grabs.

We need a lot of constructive communication: in this country, in our personal lives and especially on social media.

Too often we enter a conversation guns ablaze, only to miss out on a chance to really connect.

Ironically, this is usually done out of fear of NOT being heard.

Remain within earshot.