Posts

Sharon Drew Morgen

Listening Biases: How Influencers Unwittingly Restrict Possibilities

Do you enter conversations with a goal, or set of expectations? Do you assume you’ll have solutions for your Communication Partners (CPs)? Do you listen carefully to pose the best questions to enable you to fulfill your expectations? Do you assume the responses to your questions provide an accurate representation of the full fact pattern – ‘good’ data – to base your follow-on questions on? Do you assume your history of similar topics provides a route to an optimal outcome?

If any of the above are true, you’re biasing your conversation.

  • By entering conversations with assumptions and personal goals,
  • and listening according to historic, unconscious, self-directed filters,
  • you unwittingly direct conversations
  • to your range of expectations and familiarity
  • and potentially miss a more optimal outcome.

In other words, your unconscious inhibits and biases optimal results. But it’s not your fault.

Our Brains Cause a Gap Between What’s Said and What’s Heard

The most surprising takeaway from my year of research for my book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard was learning how little of what we think we hear is unbiased, or even accurate. Indeed, it’s pretty rare for us to hear precisely what another intends us to hear. Yet that doesn’t stop us from translating what’s said into what we want to hear.

Employing biases, assumptions, triggers, memory tricks, and habit (filters that act as information sieves) our brains take a habitual route when listening to others, alter and omit at will, and don’t even tell us what’s been transformed, regardless of our desire to be neutral. So the Other might say ABC and our brains actually tell us they said ABL. I once lost a business partner because he ‘heard’ me say X when three of us confirmed I said Y. “I was right here! Why are you all lying to me! I KNOW she said that!” And he walked out in a self-generated rage.

Indeed, as outsiders, we cannot ever know the full range of givens within our CPs innermost thinking. Every person, every situation, every conversation is unique. And given variances in our beliefs/values, background, identity, etc., our inability to accurately hear exactly what is intended causes us to unintentionally end up working with data of unknowable accuracy, causing a restricted, speculative route to understanding or success.

Net net, we unwittingly base our conversation, goals, questions, intuitive responses and offerings on an assumption of what we think has been said, and we fully succeed only with those whose biases match our own. [Note: for those who want to manage this problem, I’ve developed a work-around in Chapter 6 of What?)

Entering Conversations Without Bias

The problem is compounded when we enter and continue conversations with unconscious biases that further restrict possibility. Because of the potential constraints, we must take extra care to enter and guide conversations without bias. But our natural listening habits make that difficult:

  1. by biasing the framework of the conversation to the goals we wish to achieve, we overlook alternative, congruent outcomes. Sellers, coaches, leaders, and managers often enter conversations with expectations and goals rather than collaboratively setting a viable frame and together discovering possibility.
  2. by listening only for what we’re (consciously or unconsciously) focused on hearing, we overlook a broader range of possible outcomes. Sellers, negotiators, leaders, help desk professionals, and coaches often listen for what they want to hear so they can say what they want/are trained to say, or pose biased questions, and possibly miss real opportunities to promote agreement.

Once we have expectations, success is restricted to the overlap between our needs and the CPs; the real problems and solutions lie outside. Here are some ideas to help you create conversations that avoid restriction:

  1. Shift your goal as an influencer to facilitating the route to change. You’ll never have the full fact pattern, or the weight and implications of each element that has created and maintains the status quo. But you can lead a route to change using systems thinking and enabling your CP to engage their own change, congruently.
  2. Enter each conversation with a willingness to serve the greater good within the bounds of what you have to offer, rather than meet a specific outcome. Any expectations or goals limit outcomes. The Other’s outcome will become obvious to them.
  3. Enter with a blank brain, as a neutral navigator, servant leader, change facilitator.
  4. Trust that your CP has her own answers. Your job is to help her find them. This is particularly hard for coaches and leaders who believe they must influence the outcome toward a goal, or use their expertise to help the person change the way the influencer believes they should. (And yes, all influencers, sellers, leaders, negotiators, and coaches are guilty of this.)
  5. Stay away from data gathering. Stick to understanding how the status quo became established, and directing systemic change from there. Your biased questions will only extract biased answers. Use questions focused on change because you’ll never gather the full fact pattern anyway. Neutral questions like “What has stopped you from making the change before now?” is an example of a question addressed to systemic change. [Note: I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that eschew information gathering and lead systemic change through unconscious thinking patterns.]
  6. Make ‘discovery of a route to congruent change’ your goal, not a specific behavior.
  7. Get rid of your ego, your need to be right or smart or have the answers. Until your CP finds a way to recognize their own unconscious issues, and design congruent change that matches their idiosyncratic ‘givens’, you aren’t helpful regardless of how much you think you know.

Here are the steps everyone goes down to discover their own answers:

  1. What is the complete landscape of the status quo? The hidden elements that caused, and perpetuate, the current state?
  2. How has the person attempted to fix the problem until now? What caused her to fail? How has she continued to maintain her current behaviors? Why isn’t this still working now (regardless of success or failure, all systems create and maintain their status quo for Systems Congruence)?
  3. What internal capabilities does he have, but may be used for other actions, to substitute more helpful choices? What has stopped him from making this substitution until now?
  4. What does the client think he’s missing to get him to success, and how might he use you to help?

By assuming your client has his own answers hidden in his unconscious that just need to be found, by acting merely as a facilitator, by eschewing information gathering questions and pitches, you can help Others design their own fix, avoid bias, stop wasting time on those who will never buy-in, and truly serve another. You won’t have the type of control you’re used to, but thinking with a systems brain, you’ll have a much more powerful control: you’ll be facilitating real change.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

Melissa Davies

Integrative Listening – Is Anyone Truly Listening Anymore?

These days, it seems that the art of communication is being lost. All too often within society, conversations have become one-sided monologues with witnesses or even worse, people gathered together in one space while all looking at their devices.

When people stop talking in the workplace, morale drops followed by productivity. If leaders fail to address these problems, they will see good employees walk out the door. Employees leave positions where they feel they are not being heard or understood either by leaders or colleagues. While the cost of employee turnover is high, leaders who do nothing about it pay an even higher price.

Society seems to have perpetuated the strange theory that just because human beings breathe, they can communicate. Yet hang around any organization for even a short period of time and you’ll recognize that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Within the entire workplace spectrum, ineffective communication skills are ever-present. Colleagues bicker about the same topic only to find that essentially they are really saying the same thing, just from a different perspective. Others complain and argue to the point where they refuse to work with each other. Even further on the spectrum, others opt to remain silent and watch the system as it slowly breaks down into a disordered state.

Today’s work environments are diverse beyond the physical attributes of age, gender, and race. We must also consider each employee’s cultural roots, generational experiences, and how their spirituality affects more than how many personal days they take but rather how their beliefs lead them to interact with others. In organizations, the ability to successfully exchange relevant information becomes even more vital. Team members who communicate in an integrative manner look each other in the eyes and speak to the heart of the matter. They have learned strategies that allow them to observe the issue from a seamless framework without any animosity. They work to truly hear the people they are interacting with instead of just waiting them out so they can respond. They come from a place of empathy, working to understand where the other person is coming from, even if they don’t agree with why the person feels or thinks that way. They watch the speaker’s body language and listen to their tone of voice. They understand that communication is more than words in isolation. They learn to respond assertively, using “I messages”, owning their contribution to the process of communicating, and helping to involve the other parties in the process as well. As people practice and employ these skills, they begin to appreciate what the other person brings to the table; relationships based on trust develop leading to more cohesive teamwork. These communication skills are critical for the successful execution of organizational missions.

In his 1996 book, The Platinum Rule, Dr. Tony Allesandra discusses what he considers to be the Platinum Rule. “Do unto others as they’d like done unto them.” Distilled down to its essence, the Platinum Rule likens itself to respect for others. Moving away from a them-versus-us mentality and shifting to a focus on “us”, it becomes a useful tool to help build rapport, develop teams, and ultimately meet the organization’s mission. He also outlines four behavioral styles; director, socializer, relater, and thinker. In order for leaders and others to utilize Alessandra’s work effectively, they must recognize what their dominant style is as well as those of the others on their teams. Once they understand the other’s styles, they can learn to flex to them. Meeting people at their point of engagement gives a better chance of being “heard” by them. Managers who model these skills and provide a trusting environment, position their teams and organizations for greater success and growth.

In my book, How Not to Act Like a BLEEP at Work, we chronicle the development of Louise Jackson, a technically successful mid-level manager who struggles to be behaviorally proficient. As a director/thinker, Louise lacks empathy and emotional intelligence. She doesn’t recognize the need to meet her people where they are, leaving her team to pick up the pieces and support each other along the journey.

Leaders are becoming further tasked to garner more and more from their team members. Through the use of integrative-based communication strategies, many needless conflicts could be avoided early on. How much would that be worth to your project, program and institution?


About the Author

Melissa DaviesMelissa Davies is an internationally respected expert on developing workplace environments where people are able to show up better. She runs Wise Ways Consulting, which specializes in executive coaching, group facilitation, and high-engagement training. Melissa is also the author of How Not to Act Like a BLEEP at Work, a business parable that delivers examples and lessons on how to create a business environment where team members are able to show up with their best selves and contribute to meeting the organizational mission.

Sharon Drew Morgen

We Don’t Know How to Hear Each Other: how biases distort our conversations

As a Buddhist, I don’t understand why anyone would want to take another’s life or how it’s even an option. Yet so many in our country are feeling disempowered and ignored, targeted and disenfranchised and we haven’t yet created a dialogue to heal. In fact, we don’t even know how to hear each other. During this time of racial, class, political, gender, and education divide, of distrust and blame and victimhood, of killing and guns and violence, our inability to deeply hear each other is heartbreaking and costly.

I’m not going into the moral issues of Right/Wrong here. But I can offer my bit to make it possible to find solutions.

The Problem: How Our Brains Listen

During the 3 years researching and writing a book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I learned how ubiquitous our challenge is: the distance between our subjective experiences and cultures makes it almost impossible to accurately hear others outside of our own ingrained biases, assumptions, and triggers. Indeed, words can’t be correctly translated when the intended meaning gets lost in another’s unfamiliar mind-set, culture, and history; the possibility of finding collaboration and reconciliation gets lost in our communication.

Heartfelt intent and tears aside, we’ve not been taught how to listen without bias. From the individual spots we each stand in, with our restricting viewpoints and hot-buttons, we pose biased questions and make faulty assumptions, overlooking the possibility that our Communication Partner (CP) may have similar foundational beliefs that we just don’t know how to recognize.

Unfortunately, our brain causes the problem. It translates what’s been said into what’s comfortable or inflammatory or habitual or or… and doesn’t realize it has misunderstood, or mistranslated the Speaker’s intent. So we actually hear ABL when our CP said ABC and we have no reason to think what we we’ve ‘heard’ is faulty. I lost a partnership this way. During a conversation, John got annoyed at something he thought I said. I tried to correct him:

“That’s not what I said.” I told him.
“I know what I heard! Don’t try to get away with anything here!
“But I didn’t say that at all!
“John, I was sitting right here. She’s right. She never said that,” said his wife.
“You’re both lying!!! I’m outta here!!” And he stomped out of the room, ending our partnership.

It’s pernicious: our brains select a translation for us, reducing whole conversations and categories of people to caricature and subjective assumption. But to distinguish what’s meant from what we think we hear, to experience what others want to convey when it’s out of our experience, we must recognize when it’s time to make a new choice.

How To Do How

We need a way forward to choose behaviors that maintain our Beliefs, Values, and Identity AND find common ground to listen to each other and come to consensus with action steps to help us all heal. I’m going to offer some steps for us to dialogue and reach win/win consensus. But first I’ll a few foundational truths:

  • Everyone’s experience and history is valid, unique, and guides their choices.
  • Others cannot see or feel what you see or feel.
  • Everyone has a right to the same basics: health, a living wage, good work, safety for our families, education.
  • All change, including adopting new ideas, is threatening to the status quo and will cause resistance unless there is buy-in at the level of beliefs.

We must

  • recognize common beliefs and values we can buy-in to without impairing our individual values,
  • feel safe in conversations when it feels like we’re speaking with enemies,
  • override our resistance and biases to find common intentions, compassion and outcomes,
  • be able to hear another’s intended message without overlaying our biases, assumptions, and habits.

I’ve put together a few action steps to begin to dialogue with those we’ve historically sat in opposition to. I also recommend that our conversations must work toward win/win. I call this a We Space.

1. Get agreement for a dialogue: It’s likely that you and your CP have different goals and life experiences. Begin by agreeing to have a conversation to do nothing more than find common ground.

  • “I’d like to have a dialogue that might lead to us to an agreeable route forward that meets both of our goals. If you agree, do you have thoughts on where you’d like to begin?”
  • “I wonder if we can find common goals so we might possibly find some agreement to work from. I’m happy to share my goals with you; I’d like to hear yours as well. ”

2. Set the frame for common values: We all have similar foundational values, hopes and fears – they’re just different. Start by ‘chunking up’ to find agreement.

  • “I’d like to find a way to communicate that might help us find a common values so we can begin determining if there are places we can agree. Any thoughts on how you’d like to proceed?”
  • “It seems we’re in opposite mind-sets. What might be a comfortable way forward for us to discover if there is any agreement at all we can start from?”

3. Enter without bias: With limiting beliefs or hidden agendas, there’s no way to find commonality. Replace emotions and blame with a new bias, just for this conversation: the ‘bias’ of collaboration.

  • ‘I’m willing to find common ground and put aside my normal reactions for this hour but it will be a challenge since I’m so angry. Do you want to share your difficulty in this area, or are you ok with it and can help me? How do we move forward without bias?’

4. Get into Observer: In case you have difficulty overcoming your biases and filters, here’s a physiological ‘How-To’ that comes straight from NLP: in your mind’s eye, see yourself up on the ceiling, looking down on yourself and your CP. It will virtually remove you from the fray, and offer an unbiased view of your interaction – one step removed as it were. One way to do this is to walk around during the conversation, or sit way, way back in a chair. Sitting forward keeps you in your biases. (Chapter 6 in What? teaches how to do this.)

5. Notice body language/words: Your CP is speaking/listening from beliefs, values, history, feelings, exhibited in their body language and eye contact. From your ceiling perch, notice how their physical stance matches their words, the level of passion, feelings, and emotion. Now look down and notice how you look and sound in relation to your CP. Just notice. Read Carol Goman’s excellent book on the subject.

6. Notice triggers: The words emphasized by your CP hold their beliefs and biases. They usually appear at the very beginning or end of a sentence. You may also hear absolutes: Always, Never; lots of You’s may be the vocabulary of blame. Silence, folded arms, a stick-straight torso may show distrust. Just notice where/when it happens and don’t take it personally – it’s not personal. Don’t forget to notice your own triggers, or blame/victim words of your own. If their words trigger you into your own subjective viewpoints, get yourself back into Observer; you’ll have choice from the ceiling. But just in case:

  • “I’m going to try very hard to speak/listen without my historic biases. If you find me getting heated, or feel blame, I apologize as that’s not my intent. If this should happen, please tell me you’re not feeling heard and I’ll do my best to work from a place of compassion and empathy.”

7. Summarize regularly: Because the odds are bad that you’ll actually hear what your CP means to convey, it’s necessary to summarize what you hear after every exchange:

  • “Sounds to me like you said, “XX”. Is that correct? What would you like me to understand that I didn’t understand or that I misheard?”

8. ‘I’ statements: Stay away from ‘You’ if possible. Try to work from the understanding that you’re standing in different shoes and there is no way either of you can see the other’s landscape.

  • “When I hear you say X it sounds to me like you are telling me that YY. Is that true?”
  • “When I hear you mention Y, I feel like Z and it makes me want to get up from the table as I feel you really aren’t willing to hear me. How can we handle this so we can move forward together?”

9. Get buy-in each step of the way: Keep checking in, even if it seems obvious that you’re on the same page. It’s really easy to mistranslate what’s been said when the listening filters are different.

  • “Seems to me like we’re on the same page here. I think we’re both saying X. Is that true? What am I missing?”
  • “What should I add to my thinking that I’m avoiding or not understanding the same way you are? Is there a way you want me to experience what it looks like from your shoes that I don’t currently know how to experience? Can you help me understand?”

10. Check your gut: Notice when/if your stomach gets tight, or your throat hurts. These are sure signs that your beliefs are being stepped on. If that happens, make sure you get back up to the ceiling, and then tell your CP:

  • “I’m experience some annoyance/anger/fear/blame. That means something we’re discussing is going against one of my beliefs or values. Can we stop a moment and check in with each other so we don’t go off the rails?”

11. Get agreement on the topics in the conversation: One step at a time; make sure you both agree to each item, and skip the ones (for now) where there’s no agreement. Put them in a Parking Lot for your next conversation.

12. Get agreement on action items: Simple steps for forward actions should become obvious; make sure you both work on action items together.

13. Get a time on the calendar for the next meeting: Make sure you discuss who else needs to be brought into the conversation, end up with goals you can all agree on and walk away with an accurate understanding of what’s been said and what’s expected.

Until or unless we all hold the belief that none of us matter if some of us don’t; until or unless we’re all willing to take the responsibility of each needless death or killing; until or unless we’re each willing to put aside our very real grievances to seek a higher good, we’ll never heal. It’s not easy. But by learning how to hear each other with compassion and empathy, our conversations can begin. We must be willing to start sharing our Truth and our hearts. It’s the only real start we can make.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

Sharon Drew Morgen

The Arrogance of Listening

When researching my book on the gap between what’s said and what’s heard (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) I discovered that most people believe they listen accurately, and that any miscommunication or misunderstanding is the fault of the Other.

When my book came out, 20,000 people downloaded it in the first 3 months. I received hundreds of emails from readers profusely thanking me for the book, saying they were going to give it to their spouses/colleagues/clients so THEY could learn to hear to these readers without bias or misunderstanding. Did readers not grasp how our brains are wired to make it highly unlikely we understand what others mean without bias? How was it possible that they missed the fact that ALL brains operate this way, even their own?

I also received calls from managers saying they wanted me to train their teams so they could better listen to each other, and to their clients. Yet none of them hired me. Why? Their teams believed they didn’t need training cuz they listened just fine, thanks, that any miscommunication lie on the side of the client/colleague.

How Often Do We Misunderstand What’s Meant

There are two issues here.

Truth: our brains have constructed unconscious, subjective filters (biases, assumptions, triggers) over the course of our entire lifetimes, making it highly improbable to accurately hear some percentage of what others mean to convey (percentages vary according to how far they are from our own subjective biases). Additionally, our brains subjectively and habitually match what they hear, to stored, historic conversations we’ve had (some from decades ago, some wildly out of context), thereby altering our Communication Partner’s meaning – and what we think they’ve said – accordingly. Unfortunately for us all, it happens at the unconscious, making it difficult for us to change/fix/recognize.

Reality: because our brain only offers us the interpretation it has constructed, (and we have no idea what percentage of this is correct), we believe we ‘hear’ accurately. So if I say ABL and your brain tells you I’ve said ABP, you will fight me to the death that you heard ‘right’, or that I just didn’t remember what I said, without realizing that your brain may have altered the transmission all on its own, without telling you. I had one Active Listening professor wildly mishear and misrepresent what I said, yet claimed I was probably having a Freudian Slip (he actually said that) because what he ‘heard’ was ‘accurate’ and I was mistaken.

Sadly it’s impossible to accurately hear the full extent of what our Communication Partners mean to convey (although we might hear the words [which we remember for 3 seconds]). Obviously with folks we’re in contact with regularly, our brain recognizes those unique communication patterns via habits and memories and does a better job for us. Not so much with people not in our immediate sphere, or when we enter conversations with assumptions and biases that restrict the entire dialogue.

Sometimes We’re Just Wrong

But haven’t we all been burned over time with misunderstandings or assumptions? Haven’t we all realized that maybe, just occasionally, maybe sometimes, that we might have, on a bad day, misunderstood someone? And that it was actually our fault? What’s the deal about needing to be ‘right’?

In a recent conversation with my friend Carol Kinsey Goman (body language guru) we couldn’t figure out why the word ‘listening’ elicited so much denial. Why don’t companies demand their employees listen without bias? To hear clients without assumptions? To walk away from meetings with To-Do lists that actually represent what was agreed to at the meeting? Why is ‘listening’ a ‘soft skill’ when it informs all client interactions, team productivity, and creativity? Why do we assume we listen accurately?

Misunderstanding, misrepresenting, distorting what others say costs us all a lot – in personal capital, money, and possibility. So I ask you:

  • What needs to happen for each of us to recognize that we share 100% of our 50% of conversations? That when one person ‘mishears’ maybe there is a problem between both Communication Partners? That there is a probability of some distortion, and nip it in the bud after every conversation?
  • How will we know that it’s time to check in with our Communication Partner to ensure we’ve understood the same things – before we use the data we collected, or during an intense negotiation, or during/after a conversation or coaching session or employee review?
  • At what point in any misunderstanding or confusion might we be willing to say, “Could you please say that to me a different way?” to make sure you’ve understood the importance of what has been said? What will we hear/feel to recognize there is a problem?
  • What would you need to believe about yourself to admit that you, like every human being with a brain, are at best a mediocre listener? Because once you believe this is true, you might – you just might – be willing to be someone who occasionally misunderstands, or once-in-a-while makes a wrong assumption or mishears. Being Right is an expensive position to hold. At what point is the Greater Good more important than Being Right?

Until we’re all – all – willing to admit that we’re biologically inadequate listeners, and be willing/able to include in dialogues some check points of agreed understanding (not to mention the occasional apology), or learn how to supersede our biases, we will suffer from Arrogance of Listening, and our lives, our relationships, and our incomes, will be restricted.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

To contact Sharon Drew at [email protected] or go to www.didihearyou.com to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.

Sharon Drew Morgen

The Discipline of Listening

Our brains make it difficult, if not impossible, to fully or accurately comprehend what our Communication Partners wish to convey. We hear their words, of course, but we often end up interpreting them well outside the intent of the Speaker. I spent 3 years researching and writing on this topic for a book, (What?) and came away in awe of the magnitude of this issue and how deeply our unconscious choices prejudice our conversations.

The Problem with Goal-Center Listening

As a coach to coaches, sellers, and managers, I’m painfully aware of how sellers often listen only to ‘recognize a need’, or coaches listen for a problem they’ve had success resolving before, or managers listen for a difficulty they know how to regulate.

By listening for something specific, we end up taking away a myth as meaning. With mischaracterized and potentially inaccurate data (compounded over the length of the conversation), we then have no accurate data with which to base follow-on decisions, not to mention that everyone potentially walks away from the conversation with mistaken beliefs, feelings, and expectations. And then we blame the Other for any failure. Sadly, because our brains don’t tell us they have misunderstood or biased what was meant (we actually believe we’ve ‘heard’ accurately), we’re rarely aware that we have missed the meaning or the possibility, until it’s too late.

Tips to Listen Accurately

Here are some questions to think about as you consider adding some discipline to your listening skills:

  1. Prepare and De-stress. Before each conversation, clear your mind of any expectations or hopes, or feelings from past conversations. Otherwise your brain will unconsciously seek confirmation (Confirmation Bias) for that very thing while ignoring or misconstruing possibilities (minimizing your chances of success or creativity).
  2. Humility and humor. Unless you have written a script that everyone speaking has signed off on, you have no way of knowing what your Communication Partner will say, mean, need, or feel. I often hear people attempt to push their own agenda and don’t recognize what the Other has conveyed. Since there is no such thing as win/lose, this tends to create lose/lose, although the offended Communication Partner might not mention it during the conversation.
  3. Flexibility. All conversations demand flexibility to be present to the messages within the dialogue that actually occurs. The larger the bias or expectation going in, the harder it is to achieve, the greater the gap in understanding and expectation, and the greater the fallout from unrealized possibility.
  4. Trust. I know it’s hard to walk away without getting exactly what you want, or to hear things that don’t match your needs or expectations, but somewhere in the conversation there is a creative win for everyone. It may not look or act like your dream, but it will be something that everyone can accept. Besides, if you’re not trusting the dialogue actually occurring, you’re merely pushing your own agenda. And then you can’t even trust the outcome you’ve devised.

Unless both sides of a conversation fully understand what the Other intends to convey, there is no reality to work with and everyone risks unnecessary failure or limited possibility: it might have been possible to achieve success in a different way, or maintain a relationship over time for future possibilities. In almost every in-person coaching session I have had, my client has missed real possibilities (even of getting exactly what they want) in pursuit of hearing what they believe they should hear.

Here are some questions to think about as you consider adding some discipline to your listening skills:

  • How adept are you at entering conversations with no needs, no expectations, no biases?
  • How capable are you of showing up in a conversation with the ability to have a We Space – not two “I’s” which lead nowhere except self-serving exchanges, but a genuine melding of the people involved to find the win for all?
  • What do you need to believe differently to recognize that when you enter conversations with personal biases, assumptions, and triggers, that you will only succeed those times when the Other has the exact same biases, assumptions, and triggers – and all those who could truly benefit from your expertise and heart will not be able to hear you either (regardless of how well-meaning or accurate you are)?
  • How willing are you to learn to show up with an open mind, recognize when you have biases or expectations and quiet them before starting the exchange?
  • How can you react to something you’re not prepared for in a way that encourages collaborative dialogue?

You can continue doing what you’ve been doing, of course. But for those times you seek excellence in your conversations, a bit of preparation is in order.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]