“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” ~ Yogi Berra
First seek to understand before you seek to be understood. Stephen Covey lists this simple principle among his list of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It’s in understanding that we gain insight. When we seek to understand, we go deeper into the issue and begin to answer: “Why?”
How good are you at listening… really listening? This is definitely an area for continued growth and improvement for me. I often catch myself formulating my response well before the other person is finished talking. This seems to be particularly true when I’m disagreeing with someone on a position and the debate is on. Here’s some great advice for people like me from the Book of James:
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. (James 1:19-20 NLT)
I love the contrast in this passage between “quick” to listen and “slow” to speak. James adds “slow to anger” because he knows that when we get this backwards and are “quick to speak and slow to listen,” frustration builds. If the frustration continues, emotions heat up to the point of anger. There is nothing more irritating and fruitless than two people talking (and eventually shouting) past each other when neither one is listening. It’s not healthy and certainly doesn’t promote any meaningful conversation.
Communication can be simply defined as “a message sent and a message received.” Healthy communication occurs when the message sent and the message received are understood to have the same meaning. Healthy communication takes work, patience, understanding and humility. When you seek to understand, you slow down the dialog in a productive way and replace reaction with deeper thought and inspection. “Quick” listening and “slow” speaking are the keys to clearer understanding.
The residual effect of unhealthy communication is preloaded conversations. These conversations begin with the thought “Here he (or she) goes again!” When you preload a conversation you reach back into past experiences and begin a new conversation in an old context. The frustration and anger from previous miscommunications sets the tone of the current conversation and derails it before it begins. Unresolved anger or frustration is the enemy of understanding in any relationship. In order to be “slow to anger” you can’t be harboring unresolved frustrations from past encounters.
Applying these simple principles can make a huge difference in the culture of your organization. As leaders, we must model healthy communication at all times. If we “seek to understand,” others will too. Healthy communication is essential for growing a healthy organization where people feel valued.
Be more intentional about listening well today. Slow down and seek to understand before you respond. If you do this consistently, you will establish healthy communication habits that will help you build a more positive and productive team.