I had one of those interesting conversations with my daughter after picking her up from school today. She’s like every 5 year old these days, I guess…5 going on 15! We were singing along to a CD in the car and we each had a different version of the end lyrics. Sophie insisted that the words were, “Yes I will, will, will…” because they’re the words she learned in jazz as part of her dance routine. I, on the other hand…and rightly so…insisted the words were, “With my bill, bill, bill…” If you haven’t guessed it yet, the song is ‘Miss Polly Had a Dolly’. Trying to be the grown up, I suggested that perhaps there were two versions of the same song. She wasn’t having any of it. She was right, I was wrong and that was the end of it. I had to laugh and I was reminded of how easy it is to become so entrenched in our own view of the world to the exclusion of everything else. This incident isn’t only isolated to 5 year olds and their dads…the failure to see things from the other person’s point of view is endemic in our society among adults from all walks of life and is the biggest cause of communication breakdowns in business and personal relationships.
The picture associated with this blog is of a beautiful young lady turning her head away, it’s clear she’s from a well-to-do background because she’s wearing a fur coat and has a necklace garnishing her neck. It’s obvious she’s young and beautiful, isn’t it? What if someone else looking at this picture insisted that it wasn’t a picture of a young woman at all but was a picture of an old woman? You look again at the picture and you think, “Are you nuts? It’s quite clearly a young woman!” And so it goes. Have you ever been in a discussion with someone and you both have had different opinions about the same thing? Not even a different opinion but polar opposite views? Have you ever stood your ground and dug deep just to prove the other person wrong? Have you ever felt you “won” that argument but later realised that, you were, in fact, mistaken? Regardless of whether you were right or wrong, the reality is there is never any real winner in an argument. In serious instances the damage that can be done to a relationship is irreparable. Now look again at the picture. That necklace that adorns the young lady’s neck is not a necklace at all but is the mouth of an old lady, the chin of the young lady is the nose of the old. What you see as the ear of the young woman is the eye of the old. Do you see it now? Isn’t it possible that there are two (or more) sides to an argument and both of them can be right? A lot of times in life, our interpretation of events comes down to the “lens” we view things through. Our lens’s are created from our past experiences so there are no “broken” lens’s but these ultimately shape our decisions in life and therefore have a direct impact on the results we are getting. If you would like to change the results you’ve been experiencing in your life, it might be necessary to consciously change the filters on your particular lens.
If you’re interested in improving a strained working relationship with a colleague due to communication gaps, it might be worth your while giving this a go. Firstly, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” If the impact of this decision is minimal and the other person is likely to discover this on their own a little way down the track then why make a thing of it? What’s more important at this moment in time, letting the person grow by learning from their own mistakes (and building a relationship) or being right? If we find that we have a compelling desire to correct them then it might be worthwhile looking at our own behaviour. What’s driving this need? Ask yourself, “Why do I need to be right or why do I need to correct this person?”
If the impact is potentially large and it’s important that the matter be talked through, give this a go. Really listen to the other person and, only when they have finished speaking, articulate what they have said back to them (better than they can if possible). Oft times I’ve found that by truly listening and truly understanding the other person’s side they end up wanting the same thing as I do anyway but are approaching it from a different angle or are simply communicating it poorly. Only by conveying their side of the story better than they can will they truly felt heard and only then will they open up and listen to your side of things. If they don’t feel heard they won’t be able to hear what you’re saying because they’ll be too busy trying to develop a counter argument to everything you are saying!
Another approach I’ve found useful for garnishing support for an idea and building relationships is to firstly understand the outcome we’re after. What’s the end result you want in physical terms and what’s the end result you want in relationship terms? If part of this is to empower them and/or build trust rather than present our solution and expect them to agree, why not present the end result and ask how they think we should get there. For example, “Hey Michael, I’ve got this problem and I was hoping you might be able to help me with it. The outcome I’m after is X because blah, blah, blah… Any ideas on how we might get there?” Of course you have a view on the solution and that could very well be the way you both decide to go but maybe, just maybe, the other person might have a better idea. That’s a win on both counts, isn’t it?
The first step to changing anything in our lives is to become consciously aware of the thing we want to change. Only then can we put in place the strategies to bring about change. How do you handle conflicts of interest, arguments or general disagreements? Are you unnecessarily confrontational? Is your communication style holding you back in your career or your personal relationships?