December 4, 2019

Talking And Listening

By Barry Rudesill

I’ve been doing some Teambuilding prep recently and so I hope if you’ll forgive me, but it’s kind of stuck in my head. One of the things that Maria and I do when we step up to lead a Teambuilding event is ask the following question: “Communication has two parts, what are they?”  Now, if you read the title of this posting, you know the answer to this question: talking – or using some means to try to send information (e.g. writing, acting, etc.); and listening – attempting to receive and understand the information (e.g. sound, sight, touch, etc.)

Once a group has that figured out, we usually follow up with: “Which one of these is more important?” Almost unanimously, the vote is “listening”. And that’s about where it ends…

When challenged, when stressed, the first thing in an organization that breaks down is – usually – communication. People begin to interrupt each other, arguments break out, and listening takes a backseat to trying to make sure we are heard. Please note that the word is “heard”, not “understood”. We’ve worked with some rather large companies who struggled to convey information accurately.

Let me give you an example:

One CEO turned to his team and yelled, “I send out hundreds of emails each day to you and you still can’t get it right!” It turns out that he really DID send out hundreds of emails and most of them consisted of messages like, “Be sure to follow up on that.” The problem was, nobody was really sure what “that” was… After taking a “Time Out” to breathe, he and his team sat down, talked through the problem, and made changes to make sure that their communication would be – and remain – effective. (It really was an honor to hear how they developed and still ranks as one of my favorite stories from Teambuilding.)

When we’re upset – and you can pick any word on the “Anger” scale of emotions – then our communication can subtly shift. In those moments, we send “messages” through our words, our actions, our looks, and our sighs, to express our emotions...rather than simply stating them. In fact, our goal, when stressed, usually becomes an attempt to make sure people understand that we ARE stressed, not WHY we are stressed. In times like this, it becomes difficult for the “listener”.

“You’re upset. Okay… Are you mad about the weather? Politics? The amount of snow? My comment about your chihuahua?” Since there isn’t any information coming to me, I make assumptions based on what I think I know. At that point, I will either:

  • Ignore you (Freeze) – I think you’re mad at the weather and, because it doesn’t matter to me, I don’t try to understand;
  • Become defensive (Fight) – I think you’re mad at me, so I need to defend myself by going on the attack; or
  • Avoid the situation altogether (Flight) – I’m not sure what’s going on and it MIGHT have something to do with me, so I turn on the television and turn up the volume.

To resolve conflict, the person who is upset NEEDS to find a way to communicate it to the other person, even if the other person is NOT to blame! (Don’t leave them sitting there and wondering!) Remember, if it IS the other person that you’re upset at, use your “I” statements and avoid “shaming and blaming”. (Your goal is to resolve this, right?) When in doubt, take your “Time Out”, think about what you want to say ahead of time – you can write it down, if you want – and go from there. Clear, simple, honest communication is the best thing you can do to honor both yourself and the other person.

If you are the listener, your job is to not just “hear” but to try to “understand” what the other person is saying. You do this by turning off the distractions, facing them, and...listening… Don’t interrupt them, don’t argue with them, etc. Just let them speak.

If they’re not upset at you, breathe a sigh of relief and let them vent! They (probably) aren’t looking for you to solve it; they just want to express themselves. If they ARE upset with you, breathe deep and let them express what’s in their heart. (Whether or not you agree with them; they DO have the right to feel that way.) The goal isn’t to change the way they “feel”, it’s to find a way to restore the relationship. Focusing on them, listening to their needs, and going from there is the best thing you can do to honor both yourself and the other person.

If organizations become stronger by mastering communication, how much more could it affect our personal relationships?

We hope you enjoy your journey!


P.S.  The photo is from my training to become a Teambuilding Facilitator many, many years ago.  (And yes, I AM in that picture!)

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