LinkedIn Conscious Business Week 6: Communication
From the introduction:
For each week of this course I am going to take my notes on what I learned and turn it into a short blog post. I am hoping this will encourage you to take a look at the course and maybe do it yourself.
This weeks notes on Conscious Business focus on communication and managing difficult conversations.
Managing difficult conversations
In difficult conversations you will likely feel threatened and uneasy. As a result we instinctively resort to a defensive positioning which brings out the worst in us, often manifesting itself as arrogance. We believe that we know all the relevant information and that we are right and they are wrong. And so the conversation naturally degrades into a fight between you and them.
A good alternative may seem to be ‘nice’ and try to provide constructive feedback and criticism in the efforts of avoiding confrontation. But doing this is a blow to your integrity. You’re not being truthful not only to yourself, but to those that oppose you as well. To make matters worse, those on the other side of the conversation have these exact same issues as well.
To improve this scenario you need to change from a Knower to a Learner, which we looked at in the last Conscious Business post. Change your assumptions from believing you know everything, to understanding that you only know a piece of the puzzle. Then it becomes easy to see that the other person knows only a piece as well.
This change of view shifts the goal from fighting and winning to exploring and understanding. Instead of trying to beat your opponent, you share knowledge and different points of view which makes it possible to come to a mutual agreement.
This more constructive way of communicating can be thoughts of with three stages: listening; inquiring; and expressing.
How to listen
Listening means gaining a deep understanding not only of what a person thinks, but also why they think that and the actions they may take as a result.
To form a mutual understanding requires respect and communication. But often when we need to listen the most we want to listen the least. It’s too easy in these scenarios to resort to interruption. We just want to shutdown what the other person is saying so we can continue to speak. If we do this when we go back to square one, with the viewpoint of you against them.
But listening isn’t easy:
- Focus: look at them; don’t do anything else.
- Be quiet: let them finish; don’t interrupt.
- Encourage: nod; say “mhmm”; paraphrase.
- Summarize: play back their essential points.
- Clarify: ask if you have their point, and let them correct you.
- Validate: acknowledge that they have a point.
- Inquire: ask what they would like from you.
How to inquire
To inquire is to give you a chance to validate and check your understanding of what the other person has said.
Inquiry helps with the last part of listening: understanding why the others think what they think and the actions they may take as a result. Most of the time people won’t outright tell you these things, and so you have to inquire.
It’s important though to understand that inquiry doesn’t involve judgement. You’re not trying to belittle them, nor are you aiming to point our flaws in their ideas and thoughts. Asking “don’t you think that idea is stupid?” is really just judgement disguised as being inquisitive.
To inquire productively there are three aspects you need to consider: “what”; “why”; and “so what”.
Asking “what” is asking about the present and helps you understand what is going on right now.
The “why” helps gauge what the other person thinks of the past. This gives you a better idea as to how they have arrived at their current position.
Finally, asking “so what” is inquiring into the future and the actions they may take as a result of their opinions and ideas.
This can be a confronting and uncomfortable process, depending on who you’re talking to and how often you engage in this kind of conversation. To help here are another three things to keep in mind:
- Clarifying is not conceding.
- Understanding is not undermining.
- Comprehending is not counter-arguing.
How to express
Finally, expressing will involve everyone to act in a respectful way based on the common understanding they all share.
Expression is similar to inquiry, but instead of asking the questions, you are answering them as though they had asked you.
When you’re expressing your position it’s important not to oppose the other person’s views. You don’t want to start the conversation with a clash because that will put whoever you’re talking to in a defensive stance, and will likely derail the conversation to being unproductive.
Instead you want to project your thoughts in a way that allows the ideas of both sides to be integrated. Then you can both have an effective conversation and avoid ‘butting heads.’
Another way to avoid a clash is to always speak in the first person. At this stage you are expressing your views, not the views of the other person. By speaking as though “we should do that” it is likely to also put the other person on the defensive. This also opens up the conversation for a discussion and shifts the conversation more towards the aim improving understanding and collaboration, rather than fighting an opponent.
When a colleague tries to confront you, having a fight will always result in a loss. We all know the old adage “two wrongs don’t make a write.” Even if you win, you will then have to work with a defeated and resentful opponent.
Communication in all aspects of life is extremely important. And no less in the business world where you and your team need to work together internal to the company in order to respond to the pressures outside the company.