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Stop Saying, 'What I Hear You Saying is...!'

Thursday, March 06, 2008   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Don Blohowiak
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Some well-intending soul once crafted a technique to help people listen better. In a world long on verbal discourse, and short on understanding, this seems a most worthy goal.

The "reflective listening" method was designed to communicate interest in the other person's message, and to confirm understanding of that message.

These goals were to be accomplished by re-stating, or "reflecting," the message back to the speaker.

So far so good.

But the seed for misunderstanding-or worse-comes in the (annoying) overuse of a common reflective listening phrase: "What I hear you saying is ..."

I'll Tell You What You Mean!
Restating or reflecting one's message back to the speaker, while honorable in concept, actually can be counter-productive.

Here's why. Some people who launch into the "What I hear you saying..." bit, sound awfully condescending when they restate the other person's message. It's almost as if they said, "You weren't very clear, so let me try to make sense of your confusing prattle."

Clearly not the desired effect. But a potentially unintended consequence nonetheless.

Even worse, some well-meaning people significantly re-state the other person's position and turn it into a construct that really reflects the listener's point of view. And that may be very far afield from what the original speaker intended.

While voicing this off-base restatement possibly could lead to clarification, it can also lead to defensiveness and an argument. After all, if "What I hear you saying..." turns out to be very different from what really was said, where's the listening in that?

The better approach might be called "confirmation listening."

Leaderful Action Steps
Here are some techniques to listen better and improve your communication with just about everyone.

* Listen to understand by concentrating on the speaker's actual words. Tune out distractions, especially those in your own mind.

* Repeat the speaker's exact words in your mind to really hear them. Substituting your interpretation for the other's message can lead you astray very quickly.

* Make notes, mental and physical, about what the other person is actually saying-not your interpretation of the speaker's message, and certainly not what you intend to say in reply.

* Force yourself to postpone forming an opinion or a judgment about what you are hearing. You can evaluate the message after you hear it and are certain that you fully comprehend it. Do not interrupt or cut the speaker short; and never finish the other person's statement. These behaviors define rude.

* Resist, with all your mental energy, the temptation to launch into a response triggered by hearing a few familiar phrases in the other person's stream of words. When you just latch on to fragments and then unleash automated responses, you can be very, very wrong.

* Signal your interest in another's message, and confirm your understanding of it, by taking responsibility for potentially misunderstanding it. And then ask for confirmation of the message you think you received

Try these statements:

"I heard your words but may have misunderstood your message, so I'd like to clarify. Is it your position that...?"
· I want to be sure I've got it straight. Do I understand you to mean ...

"So, if I could just double-check that I've got it. You feel that ..., Is that correct?"

"Please help me to better appreciate your point by really understanding it. Did you say, using my own words, that ...?"

"I think I understand, but want to be sure. Did you basically say ...?"

"I really want to understand your point. Help me to confirm or clarify what I think I heard. Are you saying something along these lines ..."

* Pause before replying. Take a breath. Give yourself time to gather your thoughts, to monitor your emotions, to check for the accuracy of what you think you heard.

* Review your assumptions. Consider your intent in replying.
* Assume a helpful tone.

NOTE: Because of how fast your mind works, these important steps take far less actual time than what it might seem. No one minds another person taking a moment to thoughtfully gather their thoughts.

Parting Thought
A leader leads through relationships with others. And relationships are based on interactions where thoughts and feelings are mutually exchanged, not just barked out by leader to follower.

Even people who have known each other for decades and care deeply for one another can easily misunderstand one another.

Listening closely and confirming for understanding-while accepting responsibility for misinterpreting the other's message-will go a long way toward furthering understanding and accomplishing shared objectives.

Listen Well. Lead Well. Lead On.

Don Blohowiak, a management consultant and popular conference speaker, is the author of several business books. The executive director of the Lead Well® Institute in Princeton, NJ, he may be reached at http://www.LeadWell.com.

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