Last month was a month of intense conversations. Many of them were meaningful. Both the context and content were rich. However, others, left me wondering, "What was the point?"
I realized that people are not always conversing to understand perspective but are listening to respond. Or worse, people are searching for reasons to disprove, instead of being fully present. So that leads me to ask, "Have people forgotten what it is like to simply sit across from another person to understand their point of view without attempting to change it?"
If you have ever left a conversation thinking what the heck just happened, keep reading. Here are three suggestions on how to become an effective communicator and ensure conversations remain meaningful and on track.
Ensure that all parties are having the same discussion for the same reasons. With any conversation, people drift in and out of topics. This fluidity can lead discussions down rabbit holes.
One conversation from last month started in a group discussion about men, more specifically white men, being attacked in their homes and jobs by society. I found this intriguing. I started asking probing questions, to learn more. As time progressed, the topics transitioned. The group began to discuss gender and racial issues that plague the United States.
After the group conversation ended, one of the men came up to me to continue the discussion about race. He asked if I believed that racism still exist in the U.S. "Yes, I do." When he asked me, "why," I started to share my experiences. Before I could complete a sentence or two, he cut me off and said, "No, not your experiences, share the facts." He asked for statical data to support my answer. I paused for a moment and said, "Had I known, I would be having a debate about racial issues in the U.S., I would have adequately prepared." At that moment, I knew we were having two different conversations. We were headed down a rabbit hole.
Effective communicators ensure that all parties understand the purpose of the conversation. If a conversation gets off track, bring it back. Try to reset the intentions of the discussion. In this case, I let him know that I could go home and prepare for a debate. If not, I could answer the question about why I believe the U.S. still has racial issues.
Remain cognizant of the motives of all parties involved, including yours. In this egocentric society, it is easy to assume that one's position is right. Resist the urge for conversations to become win-lose situations.
As we continued the conversation, he attempted to convince me that my answer is incorrect and that the U.S. does not have racial issues. Now, everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. From his lens, perhaps the U.S. does not have racial challenges. The problem wasn't that we disagreed. It is that he asked me for my opinion and then started to argue that my opinion was wrong and his opinion was correct.
Effective communicators actively listen to understand a person's perspective, not change it. We all have different backgrounds and experiences that shape our views. By choosing to listen and to understand the other party, it can shed light on what they have endured. More importantly, it can lead to insightful conversations that become win-win. This approach begins to shift us away from self-centered conversations to people-centric conversations, which also leaves us open for future dialogue.
Invest time and energy in conversations that are forward moving. Circular conversations can be exhausting. Know how and when to end a conversation that is an energy sap.
After a few minutes and a few attempts of sharing my perspective, it seemed more like verbal judo instead of being conversational. I found that I was defending my stories instead of sharing them. Although he appeared interested, his rebuttals became increasingly curt. It was time to walk away. I told him it was great talking to him, and I would see him next week. The truth is, I enjoyed the conversation. It allowed me to hone my verbal judo skills. However, it was going nowhere fast. I tapped out politely because there was no reason to beat the proverbial dead horse.
Effective communicators realize when a discussion is over. Time and energy are both limited resources. So, we have to determine what is it costing us if we continue. It is okay to scream UNCLE, especially when you recognize it is a win-lose situation. Because if it continues, someone is bound to lose, and the cost of winning can be a lot higher than one expects.
There is nothing wrong with healthy debate. Nor is there anything wrong with listening to another person's perspective. Both can lead to meaningful and rich conversations. The key is to go into discussions being curious and understanding all parties intentions. The next time you have a conversation, sit across from the other person and try to understand them instead of searching for reasons to refute. You may learn something about them and maybe even yourself.
Having problems with team communication? Call Angela Garmon, with ARG Coaching and Consulting Group, she works with leaders who are overwhelmed with changes in their organizations. These leaders want to bring their teams together and produce results. Connect with us to discuss some viable solutions to move your team closer to their goals. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.