Remember when the cartoon character Charlie Brown excitedly prepared to kick the football being held by his nemesis, Lucy? Just as he was about to launch the ball, Lucy pulled it away, and Charlie Brown fell flat on his back. This happened over and over. Poor Charlie Brown was repeatedly frustrated over falling for Lucy’s tricks and not getting his needs met.

One way that we non-cartoon people meet our needs is through communication. When it doesn’t go as we’d like, we feel a bit like Charlie Brown. Have you ever asked someone to listen to you – a spouse, co-worker or friend – and then were frustrated by the response? Did you get advice when you wanted to vent? Did she nod her head and say “hmm” when you needed concrete help?

How can you clue your listener into what you need? Cue cards, figuratively or literally. A cue, according to dictionary.com, is defined as: a hint, a guiding suggestion. Give the listener a clue by giving him a cue.

Here’s how it works:

  • You come home needing to vent to your spouse about your hard day at work. Instead of diving into your rant, you give him a cue: “I need to you listen and let me vent my frustration. No advice, no solutions, please.”
  • You are working on a project for a non-profit on a shoe-string budget. The project needs 15% cut from its expenses. Your boss has worked with budget constraints for many years. You need her advice. Give her a cue: “I need your advice about making the budget cuts for the project.”
  • You’re discouraged about the job market. You’re working hard to get gainful employment. You meet your friend for coffee and some much-needed support. Give him a cue: “I need you to listen and remind me of my strengths.”

Travis Tritt, a country singer, once crooned “Why can’t they get the picture? Why don’t they understand? We’re not dealing with the planet of apes? We’re talkin’ ’bout the modern man…Here’s your sign.”

When you give your listener a cue card, a sign of what you expect from him as he listens, you’ll reduce frustration, strengthen connections and get the results you expect.

Ralph Nichols reminds us: “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” You can help others be superior listeners by telling them your expectations up front.