One Communication Superpower We Should All Strive to Cultivate
It would be convenient if the Vulcan mind-meld were a real thing, but it’s not.
Seeing situations through the eyes of others may be the most crucial skill you’re not working very hard on in your professional or personal lives. It turns out when you do this—when you truly actually strive to understand how others view situations—the world takes on a decidedly different complexion. It’s You-orientation versus I-orientation, and it is transformational.
First, let’s admit that striving to see the world through the eyes of others is hard work you never fully succeed at. It would be convenient if the Vulcan mind-meld were a real thing, but it’s not. Instead, you must strive and struggle to gain insights, glimpses, and fragments of perspectives, ultimately piecing together an incomplete view of how someone views a situation. The outcome is worth the effort.
There’s a Communication Problem
I can safely generalize that most problems in the workplace have as a root cause a communication issue. I see this on project teams, with management teams working on strategy, and in the many, many coaching conversations I have with clients striving to find common ground with their coworkers. Peel the onion far enough down, and there’s a communication problem at the core.
Most of us approach communication situations with a clear indication of what we’re seeking from the exchange. We take the I want approach and are often surprised or shocked when counterparts fail to see the brilliance behind our ideas and rush to sign-on with their support.
Chip Away With Questions
Instead of leading with the I-want, savvy leaders and workplace communicators engage and strive to discover how people view situations. They shift into learning and discovery mode, ask open-ended questions, and like miners, chip-away until they have a reasonable view of the other person’s perspective.
Do a good job striving first to understand, and the peer resisting your ideas for process changes might be quite open to the ideas, particularly if she sees you meeting her interests or protecting her from risk in the situation.
In another setting, those team members in your department reacting negatively to the new structure you’ve rolled out are entirely different characters when they have context, get a voice and even a vote in the changes.
The senior managers debating strategy options but getting nowhere with alignment are well-served if they take the time to understand how they each see the changes, including positives, negatives, and even perceived threats. This last point—perceived threats—is always the elephant in the room when management teams stall with strategy. With good questioning and genuine effort to view the situation from their seats, you can tune in and then mitigate the threats without forcing an awkward confession.
Seeing the world and the situation as they do by cultivating a you-orientation is a powerful tool for improving communication quality and creating alignment. Achieving this requires you to turn off your natural I-want/I-need drive and shift your focus to their needs. Seek first to understand is almost always proper guidance, and in the workplace, it’s a bonafide communication superpower.