The Power of Words…
One of the fun things about working in The UK and The USA is realizing that there are differences in spelling (realising) and having to be cognisant of those differences. They put ‘s’ where we put ‘zee’…
and they call them ‘zeds’, to boot!
It got me to thinking about the power of words and the meanings they impart…
When the Brits say a joint, they mean roast beef (usually). A car boot is a Yank’s trunk, and a Yank’s truck is a British lorry. A USA sporting field is a British pitch. In cricket they bowl – they do not pitch the ball – even though they are throwing it. In Britain, “We’re through,” means “We’ve connected…”
Here’s the thing. We as humans are unique on the planet in having the use of language. And even when we use words in the same country, in the same culture, they take on different meaning to each of us. The Brits have a saying, “Two great nations, separated by a language in common!”
As individuals conversing in any language, we are often two great people, separated by our world view, by the way we see, hear and interpret the world around us. We are often separated by the meaning we give words, the body language we interpret…
One of my colleagues talks about answering, “How are you?” with “Incredible!” It is a great word, and totally open to interpretation. It can mean really good, really bad, or just that, “You’ll never believe…”
…at any rate, it sure beats, “Fine!” (how many different ways can YOU say ‘Fine’?
Here is a thought to ponder: It is usually not so much the words we say that conveys our meaning; more it is how our true meaning gives power to our words…
‘I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.’ Robert McCloskey
Communication is a two way street. And, as Mom said, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. So many times, we think we know what was said, what was meant, what the message is – because we interpret without always paying attention – or probing. . .
And, even when we think we are listening, there is often incomplete understanding, as we are rushed, believe we understand and just move on…
…we’ve all played “The Telephone Game” where we start a message, and pass it along. By the time it goes through 5-6 people, it is totally different. In business, this happens all too often, unfortunately. Our messages get misunderstood, misinterpreted and cause dysfunction and chaos…
…and when we don’t get fully aligned with our colleagues as leaders, we can each communicate that ambiguous or incomplete message to the teams we lead. As the messages are passed down the organization, they become even less clear – more disparate, and the gaps grow wider. Dysfunction, if not chaos and confusion, appear and grow –just from poor listening!
So, how do we get it right? How do we be as sure as possible to understand each other? We call it ThirdLEVEL Power Listening… and it comes in three stages.
‘Most listening is a monologue in the presence of a witness’
Level 1 Listening – Social Listening
Jim and John just used to talk at each other. One drew breath then the other launched in. Neither one walked away from the ‘conversation’ with any sense of relief, satisfaction or mutual understanding. Each was an expert at advocacy. The problem is that neither had learned the importance of balancing advocacy with enquiry. They were famous for simply not getting along. They were also famous for checking their emails while one of their staff was trying to talk to them. Without being aware of it, they caused deep frustration amongst their teams because they simply did not listen.
We know when we have been listened to, fully, deeply – even when it is for a very short period of time. The sense that comes from being heard, acknowledged and validated (if not agreed with) is tangible within our bodies and minds. When we are listened to, we feel good about ourselves and about the person listening. The relationship flourishes, and the performance of those concerned improves…
So why don’t we listen? It can’t be that hard, can it? The answer is probably yes and no. Many of us have a tendency to listen at what we call Level 1 Social Listening…
Imagine a friend is telling you a tale about his latest holiday. As he begins to talk about scuba diving you remember the time that you went scuba diving, too. You had a similar experience. You join in, regaling him about your own experience as soon as he has finished sharing his story (and sometimes in your enthusiasm, you may even interrupt!) You mean well, but you are not really listening).
Just like when you forget someone’s name, as soon as they tell you...
…you weren’t listening!
In the right place and at the right time this kind of listening is a powerful social lubricant. We all do it from time to time, and we can have fun with it, and the conversation can wander aimlessly like a weekend walk in the woods. Warm, healthy, and surprising.
Often in these kinds of dialogue, the ‘listener’ who has hijacked the conversation feels like it was a great chat. The speaker feels disregarded, and switches off.
In the wrong place and at the wrong time – i.e. when someone needs you to listen to them and not turn the conversation around to your experiences or opinions - listening only at the first level can become deeply frustrating and disconnecting – the opposite of our intent.
Level 2 Listening – Active Listening
When we focus our listening to being ACTIVE, we start to move away from making it all about us, our experiences and opinions, and we begin to truly and actively listen to the words and the meaning that the other person is conveying. Active listening might be reflected in a statement such as,
‘It seems you are not seeing enough progress on the XYZ project.’
‘It sounds like you are saying that…’
‘What I am hearing is…’
The acknowledgement of their words alone will provide the speaker with relief and create the climate for a dialogue.
You may get it wrong with your ‘sounds like’ – the speaker will likely simply correct you, tell you more, open up. The speaker feels heard, and you learn so much more.
In order to learn more and lead more powerfully, listening is a fundamental key. If you don’t have time to listen in the first place, then much will be lost in the relationship and knowledge that is available will drop through the cracks.
Find the time to make the connection, listen actively and learn more than you can imagine…
You will realise/realize so much more. And when you are finished ‘chatting’ you will really have gotten through – in any language, at all.
Our next blog will talk about Power Listening – bringing the power of emotion to how you listen, which builds deep trust, alignment, loyalty, and performance.
Stephen and Margaret