I’m having a discussion with someone, and they just don’t seem to get it. Everything is so clear in my mind, so obviously they’re not as smart as me – otherwise they’d know what I’m saying.
There’s many a slip ‘twixt the mind and the mouth.
The problem is that communicating with other people is a very messy and imperfect activity. I can’t say everything that’s in my mind, because my thoughts are more complex than mere words. To give the whole story, I’d have to be able to recap my entire life experience for you.
You come from a different life experience, so the words I use may not have the exact same meaning for you. If I describe something as “hot”, does that mean hotter than normal, or too hot to handle, in danger of burning something, or something else? And that’s just one word.
On top of that, emotions get added to the conversation whether I want to or not. My own emotions will affect the words I choose, and more importantly, my body language and intonation. Those messages may well affect how you hear what I say even more than the words themselves.
This all sounds pretty hopeless, so how can we have a useful conversation at all? The first principle is to listen even more than you speak. Listen for what the other person says in response, listen more deeply to how they seem to be affected by you, and try to figure out how they’re interpreting all this.
The second principle, though, is more subtle: Listen to what you’re saying.
Before I post this on the blog, I read and re-read it, to see if I’m getting my messages across as intended, and to try to guess how people might respond. When we’re talking, though, this is more difficult, as I rarely take the opportunity to “edit” what I’m saying before the words come out of my mouth.
But even as I speak the words, it’s still important to listen to them. In a conversation I have the chance to adjust, correct, and backtrack when it didn’t come out right.
I had an important business discussion with a gentleman this morning, fairly important. We’ve never met, and he was evaluating me while I was evaluating him. Both of us came with our own preconceptions about each other, but tried to be open to learning during the call. Here’s how I approached it:
- I was clear on what I needed to get out of the discussion.
- I guessed at what his preconceptions might be, but adjusted this as the call proceeded.
- If my answers or comments seemed like they might be critical, I took just a little more time to think through them before speaking.
- In other comments, I asked myself: (1) Did I say what I had hoped to say? (2) Does it sound like he understood me?
- I made sure that he knew I was listening to him, in the way I responded to him, paraphrased, and asked what questions he had of me.
The bottom line is this: In conversation, listen to what the other person is saying and feeling, but also listen to yourself. Correct and adapt as needed.
by Carl Dierschow