Today is Thursday, so this post is on dynamic communication.
All dynamic communicators are excellent conversationalists. All excellent conversationalists are great listeners. The other day, I read a very interesting book, Same Words, Different Language by Barbara Annis. Ms. Annis bills herself as “the world’s leading gender specialist.” After reading Same Words, Different Language, I’m inclined to agree. If you are interested in understanding gender differences and how to deal with them, I suggest you read it too.
For purposes of this post, I want to concentrate on what Ms. Annis has to say about listening. She says, “Active listening is what gives you those ‘Ah-hah’ moments. How do you do that? Follow these guidelines:
- Take ownership of the situation. It’s the only way to avoid becoming the victim of your own blind spots. Try to recognize your own blind spots before you judge and evaluate others. Ask yourself, “Is there something in what this person is saying that I’m not understanding?” There probably is.
- Ask questions. Ask the person you’re listening to what they mean. What’s their opinion on the issue? How does this appear to them?
- Use checking and framing strategies. First check whether your assumption is true. Maybe it is, but there could be more to it than you think. Then frame your question in a way that avoids putting your boss or employee or colleague – or spouse – on the defensive.
- Don’t rationalize or screen their responses. Ask yourself whether you are having a dialogue, if you’re really listening actively, it means you’re learning something about the other person’s perspective that you never thought of before.
- Don’t get on the defensive yourself. “What you said hurt me,” is not a good way to get honest feedback. Take ownership of your assumptions with a phrase like “I made an assumption about what you said to me. I just want to check and see if that’s what you really mean.”
- If you need to remind yourself about why it’s so important to check your assumptions, ask yourself some simple questions: What is my long term commitment here? Do I want to make this relationship work?
Related: 6 Ways To Become A Better Listener
Each of these six points is great common sense advice for becoming a better listener. However, I would like to focus on Ms. Annis’ first point, especially the part, “Try to recognize your own blind spots before you judge and evaluate others.
I often make the following point with my executive coaching clients. “When someone begins to speak, and you think, ‘That’s the craziest — or weirdest — or dumbest — thing I’ve ever heard,’ pay close attention and listen real hard, because you’re probably about to learn something.” I think this is what Ms. Annis means when she advises us to recognize our own blind spots.
When you immediately disagree with what someone is saying, chances are they’re hitting your blind spot. They are advancing a point that breaks a paradigm for you. In these cases, it’s natural to react defensively and dismissively. However, an accomplished listener will put aside his or her immediate reactions, and spend the time listening to understand the other person’s point of view.
Understanding is key. Once you understand, you can disagree – but it will be an informed disagreement. When you disagree without understanding, you are not engaged in a dialogue with another person, but in an internal monologue with yourself where you are justifying you point of view.
And as an added bonus, I find that when I take the time to listen to what other people have to say, I often end up agreeing with their point of view, or at a minimum, I’ve learned a new way of thinking about an issue or idea.
The common sense point here is simple. Listening is critical to becoming an excellent conversationalist. Excellent conversation skills are critical to becoming a dynamic communicator. Dynamic communication is critical to career and life success. Pay attention to all six of Ms. Annis’ points on listening, but pay special attention to her first point – recognize your blind spots before you judge and evaluate others. You can do this by paying close attention to people who are advancing points with which you don’t agree at first.