We were in a three day meeting. The first one and a half days had gone great.
And then we met an enemy of progress head on – that enemy was the all too human need to prove we are right.
We had reached an impasse in which neither side would give. We had actually believed we were very much aligned and thought the next conversation would be easy.
When we dug deeper into applying the principles we had developed and chosen to follow together, an intense debate began. It wasn’t that we didn’t have a shared commitment or that we didn’t agree on the principles. It wasn’t that people were lying or being compliant when they said they could get behind the framework we created for moving forward.
The problem wasn’t that we were not aligned in principle. It was that we had very different views regarding how to go about satisfying those principles and achieving our common goal.
On the one side there were people who thought they were taking a stand for something and that they had a great idea. They could prove it because it had worked before and had evidence that it could work given the new standards.
On the other side were those frustrated by what seemed like stubbornness getting in the way of progress. We were changing things and it looked like “they” were trying to hang on to the way they have always done things.
Nothing we tried to break the deadlock seemed to be working. Some tried logic and reasoning, but were met with different logic and alternative reasoning. Others tried poking holes in the proposed approach to be met with explanations of why there weren’t any holes at all.
We all went home that night reflecting on how we each may have contributed to the deadlock. After all, collaboration demands personal responsibility if you are to overcome obstacles together.
In reflection we could see that at some point we all had stopped doing the only thing that could have contributed to unlocking us and moving forward: listening to each other.
Here are the three principles to listening better that we applied successfully to get to the other side:
1 – If you are not being heard, chances are you are not listening.
When you don’t feel like you are being heard the natural tendency is to find ways to communicate what you have to say better or even more forcefully. Unfortunately that is a bit like speaking louder when someone doesn’t understand you because they don’t speak your language.
Stop speaking and start listening. What you learn will help you communicate in a way they can actually hear you. Besides, the person with whom you are trying to communicate might actually return the favor.
2 – Seek to understand first before seeking to be understood.
Effective listening requires that we relate in the world view of the other person rather than trying to pull that person into our world. This is one of the secrets of great marketing. It is also one of the pillars of effective communication.
3 – Focus on what you do agree on rather than trying to fix what you don’t agree on.
The minute someone starts going into a long story or explanation designed to prove they are right, refrain from meeting them head on with your story or explanation. That’s called debate and the purpose is to win. That means someone will lose. in the example of a deadlock everyone loses. When that happens it’s time to get out of the “details” and find your way back to what you do have in common. This requires that you listen to each other and for what you have in common rather than listening to find the flaw in the others argument. Worst case you agree to disagree so you can move forward.
Your turn. What key to listening better can you add?
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