This episode continues the discussion about The Rules of Civil Conversation and how they apply to Talking Like a Leader. Let's take a look at the first 2 rules that drive towards shared understanding and seeing the situation from the other person's perspective.
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Hi. This is Guy Harris. Welcome to Talk Like a Leader. This week's episode is titled Reaching Shared Understanding, and this is a continuation of a series of episodes based on some reading I did at a website called TheRulesofCivilConversation.org. And if you haven't heard the first episode it was last week, this discussion will continue through several weeks as we talk about the eight rules of civil conversation and how they affect our leadership communication or how they affect talking like a leader.
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This week I'm going to look at the first two of the eight rules. Share an experience with you ahead recently that highlighted how important these two rules are. In this particular conversation, I was on the receiving end of the conversation. We'll talk about the kind of what the conversation did for me, my impressions of that conversation, and maybe how it could have gone better when the lesson that I learned from that conversation and we're going to tie this all to the rules of civil conversation and the two rules specifically that we're talking about today.
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So the first of the eight rules of civil conversation is that I will try to reach a shared understanding rather than try to win an argument. And the second rule is that while I will clarify to make sure I have genuinely understood the other person's perspective. So those are the first two rules and both of them come into play.
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In the example that I'm going to share with you today, the story of my experience and in some common leadership conversations, specifically coaching conversations, conflict resolution conversations, and change implementation or change management conversations. And so let's take a look at my experience. So I had this conversation with a person that I see infrequently, regularly and infrequently. I'd say we're friendly, not necessarily friends.
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We know each other were friendly. We have some good conversation. In this particular conversation, though, they asked me how I'd been since we last saw each other. As I started to share with them my experiences and the something like six weeks since we'd seen each other, I got about two sentences into sharing what I'd experienced and what I've been doing, those kind of things in the intervening time since our last conversation.
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And there's something I said that triggered them in some way about my experience and they launched into what turned into about a five minute monologue where they made a number of assumptions about things. I think or don't think, believe or don't believe, feel or don't feel did or didn't do a whole host of things. And so this five minute monologue turned into basically them telling me what I should do based on my experience or how I should feel based on my experience or what I should do differently based on my experience or what I shouldn't do.
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It just felt kind of like it went on and on with then telling me how I should feel, how we should think, and what I should do, or conversely, how I shouldn't feel, how I shouldn't think or what I shouldn't do. It was rather disconcerting. And the thing I noticed is, interestingly enough, they never once asked me how I actually felt about the things that were commenting on what I actually thought about, the things they were commenting on or what I actually did.
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They just took one statement I made and made a whole host of assumptions about how I felt and what I thought and what I did. Interestingly enough, I didn't feel or think some of the things that they assumed I felt or think I didn't do, some of the things they assume I did or didn't do. It was a rather interesting experience as they basically lectured me on, Well, I should feel what I should do and how I should think.
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It was sort of unsettling experience. But the key here, I've said this already, but the operating thing here is that virtually everything that happened in the 5 minutes that they were talking was filled with assumptions on their part about my thinking, feeling and actions without ever once checking to see what my actual thoughts, feelings or actions had been or had not been during the time of the experience I was sharing with them.
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It was odd to say the least. I will say it did not invite me to feel persuaded by their perspective or positively influenced in any way. The actual outcome was that I felt compelled to disengage from the conversation, to not listen to their perspective, and to not really care about what they thought. It triggered a pretty negative response internally for me, even though generally we're friendly with each other.
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In the end, I was rather resistant to what they had to say, not open to what they had to say. And this resistance was triggered like in the first 15 seconds of their monologue. So what effectively happened is they spoke for about 5 minutes. I sat and listened and basically was internally disagreeing and retreating from virtually everything they said.
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Now, here's the thing. I know this person. I know that they probably intended to be helpful to me. That's probably their intent. It's just not the outcome. I don't think they intended anything negative. I don't think they assumed anything about my intelligence or character or anything like that. It's just that the impact of their approach had a negative result in my receptiveness and openness to their message.
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They neither educated nor positively influenced me in either way. Okay, now we could go on and on talking about what they did wrong and how annoying it was to me. That's actually not the point of this conversation though. It's not the point of this episode. Let's shift the focus away from what they did and what maybe we do occasionally from a leadership perspective.
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After this conversation, it caused me to think, I'd say in retrospect, have I ever done something like this to another person? Have I ever tried to win an argument rather than to reach shared understanding? Have I ever been so focused on delivering my message that I didn't slow down long enough to ask about their perspective and try to understand what they were thinking or feeling, what they had done or had not done in any particular situation.
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If I'm honest with myself, probably I have. I guess the question I leave you with is, have you ever done that? My guess is that you're a human being and like me, you've probably done it too. It's a very common and natural approach when we're excited about a topic or we have a strong interest in something or we've read or thought about something, or we have a specific outcome in mind when we have a very clear objective in our mind, it's very easy to get wrapped up in our objective and to get so focused on delivering our message and winning them to our perspective that we missed the point about communication.
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That we make the conversation more about winning the argument than about shared understanding that we make the message or the communication more about delivering our message than understanding their perspective. And here's where this can come into play. In a coaching conversation, we get more focused on the outcome we're looking for than helping the other person succeed in the conflict resolution conversation.
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We get more focused on proving that we're right than on trying to resolve the conflict and the process of selling a change. Well, we can get more focused on making people buy it than on trying to understand the struggles or frustrations or confusion they might have related to the change and helping them overcome it. In short, we get focused on winning the argument rather than shared understanding, and we get focused more on delivering our message than on understanding the other person's perspective or their struggle or their frustration.
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Well, what can we learn from the rules of civil conversation as we think about how to be more effective leaders, how to have better and more effective coaching conversations, to have more successful conflict resolutions, to sell change or to influence change in more positive ways. I think the idea is wrapped up in the statement of the two rules.
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Rather than focusing on winning the argument, let's focus on reaching shared understanding and in the process of reaching shared understanding, let's recognize that shared understanding is more than just about getting our point across. And while I acknowledge that that is a piece of shared understanding, I think it's not the bigger piece. I think it's not the more difficult piece.
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I mean, the perspective you have is relatively easy for you to see. The perspective I have is easy for me to see my perspective. It's your perspective. The hard work is in trying to understand the other person's perspective and to making space for inquiring about and listening to what they have to say so that we can reach shared understanding.
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So I think if you will focus on reaching shared understanding rather than winning the argument and if you'll remember that shared understanding basically implies that we slow down long enough to listen to and inquire about the other person's perspective. If you'll do that, I think you'll get better at talking like a leader.
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This has been the Talk Like a Leader Podcast. You can listen to this show every week wherever you get your podcast. If you have it, be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. I'm Guy Harris and thanks for listening.
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