Listen to Understand


In my last article, I wrote that sometimes, no matter what we say in response to a question, the listener is focused only on the answer they want to hear, and not on your actual reply.

I think it may be because we often get too specific in how we think, talk and ask questions. What do you think?

  1. We look at parts. We do not look at the whole. When is the last time you thought, “man, my back aches” and then decided to start eating better, stretching daily and exercising more? If you are like me, you probably simply took some acetaminophen (or a cabernet) and called it a day.
  2. We like simplicity. We do not want to admit to complexity. But look at what that could mean to an organization. “Sales are down. Fire the sales guy.” Really? Things are never so simple. There are always interconnected components, each influencing the next. Take golf, for example. A golf swing is made up of dozens of movements, each connected one to the next. You can’t just ‘hit the ball harder’ and expect things to work out.
  3. We want solutions that match our own thoughts. I do not know about you, but too often when I am challenged for something I say, my reaction is to let the other person know they are wrong. Really? What is that about? Instead of looking for a complete answer, we look for the answer that meets our own point of view. Squirrel! (sorry, just wanted to see if you were paying . . . squirrel!!)

If these are true, then what can we do? Simplicity is important. But remember: ‘simple’ does not mean ‘easy’.

Next time you are confronted with an answer that does not match your expectations, try this approach:

  1. Look for the connections. Be prepared to respond, not react. In my initial example, if I had done a better job of first asking more about what the Board Member’s felt needs were, I could have phrased my reply to better match that need. No matter what answer you get, look for the connections to the larger view.
  2. Work backward from the whole to the parts. Not the other way. Isolating components can only be effective when it is within the context of everything else. For example, if a salesperson’s performance was stellar before product lines were changed or a distributor was replaced, for example, and now the performance is poor, is the salesperson suddenly ineffective? Are there more components at play?
  3. Broaden your perspective. The last thing most of us are good at is self-awareness. We do not carry mirrors around to see ourselves. But trust me, everyone else sees us exactly as we are. Admit that the answer you want is not necessarily the best answer to hear. The respondent is not necessarily wrong when the answer does not match your desired track. Take a beat to listen to the other person and decide which way to proceed from there. You may really enjoy where the conversation leads next!

I think the number one reason why I seek simple answers is because I want quick fixes when I spot problems. But sometimes hard work on the front end provides lasting, systemic solutions on the back end. “Measure twice, cut once” as the axiom goes.

Dig deep and look for the simple – but not easy – answers. You may be surprised at how much that improves things for you in the long run.

Jump in – tell me your point of view. I want your opinion.

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