Don’t tell me what to do! – help me find it.
We sometimes feel we know what the other person means to say, or is trying to get across, and so advise them consciously or unconsciously towards solutions that we think work for us, and therefore would like to work for them. When we don’t understand, our first question is “why?” – but does this really help?
The author and coach, Nancy Kline, provides a good list of what not to do, when another person is speaking, which is quite useful in helping us eliminate bad habits. These include:
- Don’t finish the other people’s sentences.
- Don’t interrupt them in mid-sentence.
- Don’t look overly critical.
- Don’t fill in the pauses with your own stories and anecdotes.
- Don’t add information and ‘rules to follow’ during these listening phases.
- Don’t distract them by – perhaps unintentionally – looking at the clock, sighing, etc..
These seem like good general rules, but bad habits die hard! When helping someone to reach their goals, our own goal of “good helper” might take priority. Putting it more positively:
- Allow people to finish off their ideas
- Let them get to the end of their sentence
- Show interest in what they are bringing up
- During pauses, pay attention to the thinking process that you are observing
- While listening, develop rapport and collect important information
- Encourage speech and think of deep questions.
If we want to really know what the best solution is, and to help someone reach it, the more time spent knowing what they feel and how they see the world, the better. One does not climb a mountain without a map of the terrain. What if there is a smoother path, a quicker one, or a more picturesque one? How do I know what you prefer if I don’t take the trouble to ask? And how do I know what you are willing to change, unless you tell me?
I work regularly with managers and leaders who need to overcome difficulties of miscommunication – frequent where English is the lingua franca for business and negotiating. Finding ground for exploration working up from stable common perceptions is a very important skill, and one that, in the emotional heat of the moment, can be lost.
For this reason it is important to choose questions carefully and – often – to avoid the question “why?” until we have collected a lot more information first.
Where are we?
Where do we want to go?
How long do we have?
How long have we already spent?
Who are the best people to have involved?
What common ground do we have?
What makes the other person say what they do?
What are they not saying?
What is their aim?
What do they want to avoid?
What are they willing to consider changing?
What will they never change?
How can we proceed?
Being able to step back in one’s mind and having the firmly-anchored physical resources for doing so, are equally important (and very distinct). What may seem like a mountain to climb may be anything but.