Jean and I are having a rare dinner together at a pleasant little restaurant. We're catching up, and she suggests a topic for Point Lookout: "If Only I had Known." I jump on it, excitedly describing a time when I said something I regretted later on, after I learned some tiny but critical facts. Jean listens patiently and with interest, and then explains, "Oh. Not that kind of if-only-I-had-known."
Oops. I listen up.
She continues. "I meant, say, listening. If only I had known how important listening is — and how to do it — my life would have been so different."
Now that I understand, I agree. I overcome a powerful urge to slap my forehead. She tells me several more of her own if-only-I-had-knowns. Here are three of mine.
- Listen generously
- Listening to others is how we learn what they have in mind. People don't always communicate well or openly, but even if they don't, what they say (and don't say) holds important clues.
- Interrupting, finishing sentences, or hurrying others along, all get in the way of listening generously. If you're talking, you probably aren't listening.
- Let others have all the time and space they could possibly use. Encourage them. Let them know along the way, possibly with body language, that you understand. If you get confused, let them know that, too. This is what I did not do with Jean that night.
- Let people know what's happening
- Take responsibility for giving people the information they need about what's happening for you. Make unreasonable efforts to get your message across.
- If I'm upset with someone, or if I have important information, I'll do best if I let people know what's going on.
- Waiting for others to ask does work sometimes, but more often, people are two frazzled by the squeaking wheels in their lives to pay much attention to the wheels that don't squeak. And scoring someone with "negative points" for not listening, or for failing to ask the right question, might put you ahead in your own mental "tournament," but those points don't count for much out here in Reality.
- Take risks
- Learning The score you keep
inside your head
isn't worth much
out here in Realityentails doing things you've never done before. To get good at something, you have to be willing do it badly at first.
- Be easy on yourself — allow as much time as it takes to learn something new, accepting that until you learn it, you won't be very good at it. If what you're trying to do is inherently dangerous, practice first on something similar but less dangerous.
- Remember that most failures are non-fatal. If they were, I wouldn't have been here to write this, and you wouldn't be here to read it.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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