What if I told you that you could substantively improve your management style and results with one simple step. Doubtful? Incredulous? I can’t say as I blame you … but you really can. Consider for a moment that communication breakdowns are one of the most prevalent causes of tension and conflict. It’s not what is said, it’s what is understood. Or, more often, misunderstood.
How much time and money is wasted each year simply dealing with misunderstandings? We may not be able to put a number on it nationally, but could you come close in your own organization? Think about how many meetings have gone over time, or how many projects had to be amended or edited due to a miscommunication. Not a pretty picture, is it?
Now comes the application. There is a solution that, while it won’t prevent all communication problems, it will go a long way toward reducing them. That mystery solution? Becoming a better, more purposeful listener. Yes, it really is that simple … though becoming a better listener really isn’t “easy” per se.
As Daniel Palmier has said, “Fully engaged listening is much different than just hearing and interpreting words. Most of us quickly and easily fall into the trap of hearing what people are saying, interpreting it, then waiting our turn to talk. Engaged listening is much more than that.”
It begins with blankness. Letting go of assumption and focusing fully on what a person is saying – and what that means – rather than what you expected that person to say. When we operate based on assumption, we fill in blanks in conversation, making things mean what they do not mean … and that leads up to talk past each other or at each other, rather than really engaging.
Once you have schooled yourself in the art of jettisoning assumption, begin to take in the body language and tone of voice of the person. These tell us quite a bit about what is being meant in a conversation. They may even contradict the words being said. And we can miss all of that if we’re just waiting our turn to talk.
The fundamental key here is not to listen for words, it’s to listen for meaning. This goes much deeper and farther beyond the words being said. Meaning is always being communicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s always being understood…even when the listener thinks they “get it.” Unfortunately, the person communicating more often than not understands what they are “really” trying to say … so they think everyone else does too … and it’s at the intersection of that mutual assumption where conflict begins.