Norton: To be heard we must first learn to really listen to others (column)
Have you ever had a one-sided conversation? You know what I mean, the kind of conversation that is more of a monologue than a dialogue where one of the parties is talking “at” the other party instead of engaging in a discussion.
These never feel good, do they? Perhaps if we are the person delivering the monologue and we feel like we had to get something off our chest, then we just might take a little satisfaction in thinking we were heard. There are two primary problems with this approach. The first is that even though we initially feel good about what we said, the reality is that in most cases the feeling is only temporary and we may even have some regrets. The second problem, and maybe the more important problem, is that we actually believe that we were heard, when in fact the majority of the time the person that we were talking “at” had shut down and stopped listening within the first few sentences that we uttered.
Now we probably had a very compelling reason to be talking “at” someone. In our own minds we were completely justified, and they certainly had it coming. After all this has been going on too long and we were now forced to say something and take action. Whether it was something that they did that hurt us and we needed to bring it to the forefront, or it was something we see them doing that is possibly causing damage to themselves or others, either way we felt like we needed to say it.
We see this happening at home and in the workplace, and we see it happen on television as we watch analysts and panelists, reporters and pundits talk at each other and over each other instead of having a real conversation. And when we dissect this problem and look at the root cause of why it is happening, we find that it is because each person or party has their own agenda. Sometimes these agendas are out in the open, and in other cases, they are hidden agendas and that is where a potentially meaningful conversation gets hijacked and turned into a monologue with one person talking “at” and over the other person.
What would you think about this very simple, yet common-sense practice as a way to fix this problem? Keeping in mind of course that common sense is not always common practice. The potential fix is to make sure that a very clear agenda is agreed upon before the conversation takes place. Even if we feel strongly about wanting to talk “at” someone. If we are to be heard, then we need to make sure that the playing field is level, and that the other person will be in active listening and participation mode. And we need to be in active listening mode too.
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The agenda is really very simple. First, we agree on the topic that we will be discussing. Second, we set the stage that we both might have questions about the topic or incident or subject and that we are both given permission to ask those questions. The third part of our agreed-upon agenda is that we will stay on topic and not drift into other areas. And lastly and most importantly, we set the stage for a positive outcome at the end of our time together.
Here’s how it might sound:
“Mary, thanks for meeting with me today. Today I was hoping we could talk about the last few association meetings we attended together. I would love to hear more about what you were thinking and some of your actions and responses, so is it OK if I ask you some questions while we are talking? I would also like to share a little about how that made me feel and I am sure you might have some of your own questions too. I really do appreciate our friendship, so I hope we can stay focused on this topic today and that by the end of our coffee time and conversation that we will both have a better understanding of how each other is feeling about our projects and our association meetings. Would you like to add anything to our list of topics? Does this sound fair and like a good way to talk through this?”
Equal time for both parties, mutual understanding of what is to be discussed and agreement on the rules of engagement will always turn a monologue into a meaningful conversation. Everyone’s agenda is important to them, as long as both people or parties have a chance to express their thoughts in a safe environment, it will give room for both agendas to be discussed.
How about you? Have you ever been talked “at”? Have you ever found yourself being the one to talk “at” someone else? Either way, I would love to hear your story at goto firstname.lastname@example.org and when we can learn to listen first in order to be heard, it really will be a better than good week.
Michael Norton is the president of the Zig Ziglar Corporate Training Solutions Team, a strategic consultant, business and personal coach and motivational speaker. He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.