Sunday, April 22, 2012

Listen (4 of 5)

We’ve been talking about the fine art of listening for the last few newsletters because of its critical importance to being a good communicator, and we have progressed to talking about how to sense problems in our communication. It is important to be keenly aware of when a problem in a given communication starts, because they seldom get better with more talking. In fact,they can often escalate very quickly.

As you talk to your counterpart, you pretty much stay on the subject. If, for instance, you are talking about a project at work, then the discussion stays on a factual exchange about things related to the project – due date, deliverables, requirements, budget, resources – things like that. That is the kind of discussion we are hoping for, and many times we get it. But sometimes we hear things that don’t fit exactly when, say, we are proposing an idea ….like these:

1.       Our counterpart responds sarcastically, saying “Oh SURE, why don’t I just do that TOO?”

2.       Our counterpart starts avoiding giving direct responses, instead favoring language that doesn’t help us make decisions. They are RESPONDING, but not ANSWERING.

3.       Our counterpart starts “building suggestions” into questions, like saying “Well, you aren’t going to let them get away with that, are you?” In other words, telling you but NOT telling you.

4.       Our counterpart makes a statement and we become annoyed or uncomfortable and no longer feel safe to answer as we would like, so we stay silent.

As I teach in my classes, these changes are due to the meaning that the LISTENER attaches to whatever the SPEAKER has said. The LISTENER interprets the SPEAKER’S words and reacts. The LISTENER, then, has the power to determine if they will continue to move towards the desired outcome, or divert the conversation.  In the first three examples above, our counterpart is reacting to us in an unexpected way and we can see that they have “shifted away” the mutually beneficial, fact-based discussion we had been enjoying and towards a more guarded or cautious mode. In the fourth example, WE are the ones doing the shifting.

It is important to be observant for these kinds of shifts as we talk. In the next newsletter, we will talk about THE SCORE, which is a method to reduce the likelihood of our counterpart shifting away from us. When we see our counterpart shifting away from “responsible adult communication” it is important to try to remedy the situation. We will learn to re-engage them by asking some specific questions about their reaction. This is an activity called “Name the Game” and we will talk about it in the next newsletter. It is easy, non-confrontational, and has a good success rate for putting things back on course.

When we feel ourselves shifting, however, it is critical that we address ourselves right away. Our counterpart is not skilled in trying to prevent our shifting, and may unwittingly press our hot buttons. When they hit one and feel ourselves moving out of the “safe zone” and into either fear or anger, we need to be able to re-center ourselves quickly. So we have certain stories we will tell ourselves about what the counterpart just said in order to allow us to change the way we feel about it.

Next time will talk about the following four things to close on the topic of listening for now:

1)      How to reduce the likelihood of our counterpart “shifting away” by knowing THE SCORE.

2)      How to remedy things if they DO shift away.

3)      How to reduce the likelihood of shifting away from our counterpart by using active inquiry.

4)      How to re-center ourselves after we have inadvertently shifted away from our counterpart.

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