Listening from Doing the Right Thing and Achieving All Your Goals at the Same Time
Doing the Right Thing is a book about people who work in offices, why we fight, and how we can stop fighting, solve our problems, and get back to work. All materials on this site Copyright © Marianne Powers 2002. All rights reserved.    Home    Back    Next

Doing the Right Thing and Achieving All Your Goals at the Same Time

Full Book Outline:

---People Are What They Are and It's Irrelevant Anyway
---We Don't Know What Other People Are Capable of Achieving
---People Are Not Accountable for Their Thoughts and Feelings
---We Don't Know What Other People are Thinking and Feeling
---People Are Accountable for Their Words and Actions
---Assume Everyone is Doing the Best They Can
---Assume Everyone Has a Good Reason for What They Say and Do

---Listen Very Carefully
---Welcome Information, Criticism is Information
---If You Have a Choice, Don't Choose to be Hurt
---Examine Your Motives
---Targeting Problems is Good, Targeting People is Evil
---If You Want Someone to Do Something for You, You Have to Be Completely on Their Side
---When People Don't Understand, Listen Better

---State Your Position Clearly and Ask for What You Want Specifically
---Tell Them Even If You Know They Won't Understand
---All You Can Do is Tell Them, You Can't Make Anyone Do Anything
---When People Don't Meet Your Expectations, Change Your Expectations
---Give Them 100 Tries to Get It Right
---If They Can't Get It Right in 100 Tries, There Must Be Something Wrong with the Procedure
---Teach Everyone to Do Everything

When People Don't Understand, Listen Better
When people donít understand you, itís because you donít understand them. If you had really known what they were saying, your statements would have responded to theirs (even if you disagreed) and would have made sense to them. Maybe you started making assumptions about what they were thinking or feeling and responded to that instead of what they were saying. Maybe what they said didnít make sense to you, so you just said what you wanted to say without trying to understand them first. Maybe something else was going on. But whatever was going on, when people donít understand you, itís because youíre not listening.

Once you get into a misunderstanding with someone, itís very difficult to get out of it. You find yourself on uncertain ground. You donít know where you got off solid ground. You could strike off in another direction to see if understanding is close to where you are now. Most likely you will have to turn around and go back, possibly through a whole series of misunderstandings, until you get to the place where you understood each other. Maybe that was back where you said, ďHello, my name is . . .Ē

Besides being tedious and time-consuming, misunderstandings can be very counterproductive as well. You may have already started building a bond with someone, a foundation for working together, and have to give it up because you find out they werenít really agreeing with you. They just didnít understand you. Instead of having agreed on the method and being ready to get to work, you might be back on discussing the possible methods. Or, instead of being ready to discuss the possible methods, you might be back on determining whether they really want to do this.

It is worse than just being at an earlier stage than you thought, though. The whole process has been negatively impacted, because it may seem to the other person that you have already made up your mind that you want to do this and how you want to do it. They no longer believe that you have an open mind and are willing to listen to their point of view. When you have to go back like that, there are more obstacles to overcome than there would have been otherwise.

It doesnít seem to matter, either, how well you know the other person or if you have worked together before. Maybe, itís even more likely that you will have a misunderstanding with someone you know, because you make so many assumptions about what they are thinking or how they will feel about what you want to do. One of the worst misunderstandings I was ever involved in was with someone I really liked, whom I thought I understood very well, and whom I had worked with very closely and very successfully in the past. I didnít even ask him what he thought about my goals and my plan for accomplishing them. I was sure I knew what he thought. I didnít tell him what I wanted from him. I was sure he knew what I wanted. It was quite a surprise to me when he cancelled the whole project!

The easiest way for someone to understand what you are telling them is for you to start from whatever understanding you have with them already and not lose them or get lost along the way. Assume nothing! They might not know who you are even if you know who they are. They might not remember your name or who you work for (unless theyíre your coworkers, of course). Even if they work with you every day, they absolutely donít know whatís on your mind or why youíre interested in it. They might not know even if ďeverybody knowsĒ -- they might not have read your e-mail or heard whatís been going on at the water cooler. They surely havenít been thinking about it all day like you have. Theyíre probably in the middle of something else entirely.

If you really want to be understood, the first thing you have to do is find a time and setting when both you and the other person can pay attention to each other. Maybe you can just walk over to their work area. But if their work area is the front desk or the front counter or the reception area, their attention rightfully belongs on the customer. They canít give it to you. If they work where they have to take customer calls as they come in, even if theyíre not on a call at the moment, they are listening for the phone, not to you. Even if theyíre not on the front lines, they might have a deadline or a meeting or appointment to go to. You have to tell them how much time you think you need to talk to them and ask them if they can give it to you. Then you have to listen to the answer and be willing to change your plans accordingly.

Once you have the right time and setting, you need to say where you are starting from (the things you and the other person both already know). When you do this, you need to listen very carefully to the other person. Maybe they donít know what you think they know. Maybe they have forgotten. Maybe they hadnít said anything before, but they actually wanted to review that with you because they really didnít agree or had since thought of something that changed their opinion.

When you have established a starting point that you agree on, you need to take them with you to the next logical step, explaining and listening very carefully to whether they understand and agree that this is the best choice. And you have to be willing to listen if they disagree. If you donít listen to and answer their concerns as they come up, they will not be able to get past that point. You might rave on, but they will be thinking about that point that was not complete for them. At least, you have to agree to disagree or make that point a condition of agreement. You might say, ďIf we can get the customer to buy the new version, there is a new option that does this.Ē

It is also very important for you to be willing to change your mind based on what the other person says. ďYouíre not listeningĒ is the same as something else I was once told: ďI got the feeling that it didnít matter what I said, you were so set on your plan that nothing I said could change your mind in the least way.Ē Of course, the other really good reason why you have to be willing to change your mind based on what the other person says is that they really might have a better idea!

It may seem more efficient to just get to the point, to tell them your conclusion. But thatís not the way you got there. Even if you didnít consciously think the thing through, step by step, something happened in your head that took the disconnected pieces of information you had, identified the problems, chose a goal, and used everything youíve ever learned and everything youíve ever experienced to come up with the best idea. Probably it wasnít as linear as step by step. Probably, different possibilities swirled around in your head and were rejected because of various flaws before this one coalesced. So, if you let the other person go through the same process and they come to the same conclusion, you wonít have to explain anything. It just might take a while. Or, you can show them the path you took that got you to your goal so they donít have to go down every trail, like you did, to see if itís the right one.

Besides, if you tell someone your conclusion first and they like it, they might agree without even thinking about it. Then you wonít get the benefit of their judgment, ideas, or suggestions. That might turn out to be a mistake. And, if you tell someone your conclusion first and they donít like it Ė because it costs money or requires them to change or do something else unpleasant, you will have a difficult time convincing them that it is something they should do. In fact, they will probably fight you on every point you try to make, because they know agreeing to any part of it will help take them where they donít want to go. If you take them, step by step, from where they are to the same conclusion, they will have already examined the other possibilities and the consequences of not acting. It will not be such a shock. It will seem like the best alternative.

Sometimes when people donít understand you, itís your motives they donít understand and not what youíre trying to do. Then, it really helps to be able to explain every step that got you from where you were to where you are. It makes you think about whether each step is logical and the best choice. It shows the other person that, too. Of course, there might be times when you, like me, have to abandon a course of action, because this kind of scrutiny reveals that there really is a hidden agenda. Sometimes, we say that people donít understand us when, in fact, they understand us very well. We just havenít admitted our real motives to ourselves.

It seems to me that every time I started at the beginning and explained myself in logical steps, going from one idea to an associated one and then on to the next one, people have understood me. In fact, they could often see where I was going and agreed with me before I even told them my conclusion.

But when I told people my conclusion first, they often misunderstood me. In fact, there have been times when people thought I was agreeing with them, when, as far as I could tell, they were saying the exact opposite of what I was saying. That is, if I understood them, because they certainly didnít understand me!

The best way to be understood is to explain well and listen even better.

Next Section: Speaking

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