There are a lot of directions you could go with a title like that and the obvious ones – we are all drowning in information, technology, too much to do, etc., are not where this is going to go. Recently, I was driving around town and heard a public service ad about a woman who was diagnosed as bipolar trying to tell their friend about her diagnosis. The first three iterations featured the friend “discounting” the statement she had just heard with statements such as “girl, you just need to go shopping.” The last example had the friend saying a much different and better tune, “girl, I’m here for you!” The PSA was designed to help us realize that there is nothing wrong with that diagnosis and for those with it, they need a friend who will listen and be supportive during their journey. Whether you’re officially in the business of helping people grow, change and discover their true potential or not, most of us have opportunities just like the one sited above – family, friends or co-workers that need an ear or a shoulder. I would guess that we miss some of those opportunities for a variety of reasons.
Let me offer three reasons and suggest that we all start paying attention to what’s really being said by those around us. The first reason I think we miss is that a preponderance of us are “fixers” or action- oriented, get-things-done people. We hear a problem and we think we have to provide the solution. The first example I gave of the PSA was exactly that – a well-meaning friend trying to fix the other person. But, when we hear something we don’t know how to fix, we dismiss it possibly by rational thought or deflecting the conversation. Sometimes all a person wants to do is have someone listen to them and not try to fix them!
The second reason is, truthfully, too many of us are into ourselves (even narcissistic) to a level that everything we hear immediately becomes about us and our issues. I’m sure some of you reading that comment just ticked off two or three names of people you know that fit that description. Their natural reaction when you bring up your issue is that immediately start talking about their issue! And, if your life has been like mine, some of those people are no longer around you very often – by your own choice!
The last reason is clued in by a word I used in the 2nd paragraph – discounting. Discounting fits into a bigger category of “blocks to dialogue.” In the High Performance Leadership (HPL) program I coach in at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, Dr. George Kohlrieser, the professor of leadership and the creator of HPL takes everyone through a session on dialogue that comes from his book Hostage At The Table; How Leaders Overcome Conflict, Influence Others and Raise Performance. Then, coaches work with the leaders in small groups to apply the concepts and help them rewire their brains to discover just how much we use these blocks to effective communication. There are four main ways that we can shut down dialogue: 1) Discounting 2) Redefinition 3) Passivity 4) Over detailing I gave you a great example of discounting at the beginning.
My encouragement is for you to pay more attention to conversations with people. You might just realize that, at times, some of those were people really seeking help or just wanting to get something “off their chest.” One of my favorite lines as a leader has been “stay tuned” – as in, things are about to get even better! That takes on a different meaning in this context. Tune in and dial in and really develop the habit of intentional, active listening to those around you. It’s the difference between advocacy and telling vs. inquiry and questions…..powerful questions that help you discover what’s really going on with someone that you otherwise might just miss.
Onward & Upward!