It’s that time of year. Christmas music fills the stores, the elevators, and the lyric “Do you hear what I hear” is all around us.
As a communication coach, I find this to be a provocative and intriguing question. The reason for that is – how many times have you been in a conversation or in a meeting where you’ve asked yourself – “Do you hear what I hear?” To you what’s being stated seems very clear. But from your perspective, someone else just doesn’t seem to grasp the concept or they have a completely different interpretation. Perhaps for some of you, probably not too many, this has even happened in your personal relationships. You probably just laughed out loud because of the understatement of that last sentence. How many of you are thinking about your spouse right now? I digress.
What do you bring to the table?
We all bring to the table our own education, experience, baggage, philosophies, etc. These things are what shape how we interpret conversations and life. It’s the reason there are so many different answers when people are asked to identify what’s in the Rorschach blot.
Different people also think with different parts of the brain causing some to be more analytical, some more emotional, while others are more abstract and creative. All of these factors play into how we “hear,” aka interpret things, both visually and audibly. Don’t believe this? Just think back to some of those conversations you’ve had where it seemed a different language was being spoken.
I’ve coached many people over the years to help them improve their communication skills and one of the best ways to try and ‘hear’ what someone else is saying is to ask questions.
Experience guides our perspective
We’ve already established that you have a different experience in life than anyone else. Everyone’s experience is unique. Therefore to assume that another person will interpret words, a picture, or an event the same is not realistic.
Think about this. How would you interpret these words said to you? – – What are you doing?
I can think of several different ways that could be taken. For example – if I’ve had a bad day, I might interpret that question as an accusation. However, if I was having a good day, I would most likely think someone is simply asking it as an introductory question to see what I’m up to at that moment, almost like a “Hi, how are you doing?”
Of course, tonality, facial expressions, demeanor, intention, and gestures can all impact the way this message is received as well.
So it really is no wonder that ‘hearing’ what someone else may be hearing can be challenging.
Questions lead to answers; good questions lead to better answers
If we can begin asking questions to try and further clarify, we are more likely to get to a mutual understanding of what is being said. For example if you feel like you’re not hearing the same thing, you can say – “I’m not quite sure I understand the point you just made, could you elaborate a bit more on that?” Or how about a work situation where you have a different idea about what the boss has asked you to do as a team? You could say – “We seem to have a different interpretation of what Joan asked us to do on this project. Perhaps we could write down some bullets of what we each think she wants and what she said that makes us think she wants that.”
Many times it’s seemingly much faster and simpler to make assumptions than to go to the “trouble” of asking for clarity. But over the years, in both the personal and professional coaching I have done, I have seen time and time again what a lack of clarity does to relationships, teams, and organizations.
Communication is a skill that can be improved upon. And one of the best ways to hearing what others hear and to get to mutual understanding is through respectful dialogue and questions.
Merry Christmas everyone! May this holiday allow you an opportunity to make many peaceful Christmas conversational tunes.