Are you listening when you're speaking?

"I know you think you understood what I said, but what you heard was not what I meant." -unknown


Our most toxic assumption

"Copy that." Police and military use this term to indicate "message received." It still doesn't confirm that the message received is the same one as the message sent, but it's better than nothing. 

We often acknowledge the importance of "communication," but by itself, that's not very actionable. A more actionable context is an NLP presupposition which says, "The meaning of your communication is the response you get. It doesn't matter what you meant to say, the meaning comes from how the listener hears and responds to it. Which also means that your intentions, good or not, are beside the point."

Of all the assumptions in which we humans consistently indulge, the most toxic one is that the other person is hearing/understanding what we are saying (and also that we are hearing/understanding what they are saying).

Listening while your speaking

When it's your job to listen, it's a bit easier to ensure that you're on the same page with the person you're listening to (assuming one-to-one). In contrast, when you're the primary speaker, it's easy to get caught up in your own speaking and to miss important cues about how you're being listened to. When you're face-to-face, if you pay attention to their body language, especially as expressed in their face, you'll get clues as to whether they're attentive, whether they have a question or you've lost them on some point, whether you're going too slow or too fast. If you're on the phone, it's more challenging. Pepper your statements with, "okay?" "right?" "do you understand?" And wait for verbal feedback, paying just as much attention to voice tone as to the words used. Often, I will stop myself and ask, "Please give me some feedback on how you've been hearing what I've been saying?"

Many of us are concerned or defensive about getting interrupted or not being able to finish our thought or story. Most often, I encourage interruptions...otherwise I cannot be certain that we're engaged in an on-the-same-page dialogue.


Keep the feedback loop short

If you're a driver of a car, you know that if you take your eyes off the road for more than a few seconds, you're liable to end up in the ditch or even killing yourself or someone else. It's important to keep a short feedback loop between your control of the car and your eyes confirming that what you're doing is moving the car in the way that you'd like. 

The same principle implies with conversation, both in listening and speaking. Don't "take your eyes off" the immediate signals that you can notice in (or solicit from) your conversation partner in order to make appropriate adjustments in your dialogue so that the results are much more likely to be win-win.