Working with people can be both challenging and rewarding. You might find yourself waiting for your turn to talk rather than actively listening to what someone else is saying. This common human experience can happen in a variety of contexts from team meetings to negotiations or in discussions with family or friends. In order to make conversations productive and not escalate or generate conflict, it is important to consider the following:
ACTIVE LISTENING: Taking the time to listen to what the other person is saying can open pathways to collaboration and mutual understanding. A helpful acronym to add to your collection is WAIT: Why Am I Talking? Ask yourself this question and take a moment to reflect if what you want to say is actually useful or beneficial in this moment.
A work around for team meetings when time may be limited is to use the Parking Lot tool. This can be a piece of paper where someone notes the additional ideas not on the meeting agenda and is accountable for following up thereafter. This ensures that people have a space to share their ideas and that their voices are heard.
CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING: What you say may be different than what you mean. What you hear may be different from what the other person said or meant. Confusing? But, it doesn’t have to be. One way to check for understanding is to repeat back or summarize what the other person said. This builds upon active listening and creates not only understanding but TRUST as well. Checking for understanding allows you to be vulnerable and demonstrate your commitment to the person, conversation, and the project. Try it out:
It sounds like you are… Let me make sure I understand…
CLARIFY: Herein lies the Magic Question. When engaged in dialogue and practicing active listening and checking for understanding, a game-changing technique is to ask WHY. For example, someone is insistent upon changing a policy or that they are right, [insert your experience], you know you’ve been there. Arriving at this head-butting crossroads can often be frustrating. In order to problem solve collaboratively, ask WHY and be curious.
Why is that important to you? ... Can you tell me more about that?
We all work with other people, and your conversations can become easier and more productive by practicing these tools. By engaging in active listening, you can increase the positive outcomes of the conversation. By checking for understanding, you can build trust and move through difficulties. By clarifying and asking the Magic Question, you can step up your communication game and move though challenges, turning obstacle into opportunity. Give it a go and feel free to post a response to share success stories, challenges, or other tools you use.
Originally published November 9, 2018 on LinkedIn:
Hi, I'm Michelle, a Researcher & Educator focused on the nexus of health, development, and peacebuilding. You can also follow me on Twitter @michelle_helman