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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Listen Without Judgment



 
     Choosing to listen while in a conversation is not a passive effort.  Making the choice is an action that is thoughtful and vital to the life of that communication.  To listen well requires concentration.  It requires tuning in and removing distractions that compete for the listener's attention.  As much as we know this, it is difficult to do.  Many of the distractions that cause us to tune in and out several times in a given conversation come from within our own minds.  We have this constant murmur of chatter going on underneath the discussion in which we're engaged.  While someone is speaking, we're responding to their comments silently; formulating opinions in our minds that we can't wait to share.  We're not totally listening; we're just waiting to reply.  Even worse, in some cases, we're not even permitting the speaker to finish their thought.  We interrupt with our often not-so-well-thought-out opinions.
     Of course not every conversation requires your undivided attention.  But for those that do--the substantive and critical ones--tuning in matters.  Sensitive topics are one of those important discussions.  If two people have differing political views as we're seeing so prevalent today, then disregarding the other person's point of view as if it has no merit is not respectful.  Pushing hard to get other people to accept your argument is how confrontations occur.  But listening with curiosity and not necessarily with judgment lends itself to better outcomes.
     A healthy debate is always more acceptable than insolence and stubbornness.  More ideas can be shared; better discussions can be had.  When we sit in judgment of the other person, we've essentially shut down openness of thought and receptivity to differing opinions.  We've essentially shut down the conversation.
     Moreover, some people share out of a need to vent, confess or ask for help.  They may be wrong in some way, but more importantly, they may be remorseful.  Listening without voicing judgment even though you may be feeling judgmental can help them work out their faults.  They may be willing to hold themselves accountable and express their regrets.  Sometimes the communication is all about the listening part.  It requires no verbal input from you. 
     So how do we listen without judgment?  Here are three simple things to consider.
     1) Shut off the subconscious chatter and be intentional about listening.
     2) Be open-minded and listen to understand the other side.  This does not mean you have to agree.
     3) Even if you decide you don't agree with the other view, at least accept that they have the right to have an opinion.  Believe in their right to disagree with you.
    4) Practice listening without offering a lot of verbal input.  And even when you do speak, say something neutral if the other person "gets it".  Say, "It looks like you realize your mistake.  So how do you avoid making it again?"  Let them arrive at their own discoveries.  This is much more valuable than a tongue-lashing from you.
     But if you feel you can't accomplish any of these, do this to be sure--just keep your mouth shut. Regardless of the judgments floating around in your head, remember that everything doesn't have to come spewing out of your mouth.






Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why Controversial Discussions on Social Media Don't Work

     We've all seen heated discussions on social media regarding everything from political views to personal attacks when someone feels they've been wronged.  Notwithstanding the trolls whose main intent is to get a rise out of people by spewing hate, we should keep in mind that the idea behind social media is to be just that--social.  Anything outside of that is antisocial.  Here's why:
     First, social media is about connecting to other people.  It's about building and strengthening relationships through shared opinions, interests, and friendships.  Even when "friends" don't share the same views, this medium is not designed to drive a wedge between them.  When you see this occurring, don't participate.  You're misusing the medium.  Healthy debate where no one gets "unfriended" is fine.  Arguing is not.  Be considerate though, and try not to post anything that would offend others.
     Second, social media is not a place to have a lengthy discussion about a controversial topic or when your feelings have been hurt.  It's not a place to write announcements about how you've been mistreated.  It's also not a place to stalk, trash, threaten, and embarrass another person.  Since most of the posts on social media are written, a meaningful conversation can get lost in the back and forth.  As one person writes their opinion, then they have to wait until the other person(s) responds.  That could be right away or hours and even days later.  The delay takes away from the momentum of a worthy dialogue.  Social media and written comments should never replace face-to-face interaction when it's needed.
     And third, too many other people can get involved in your conversation.  If it's a personal matter between two people but it's out there for the whole world to see, then opportunists and opinionated folks can intrude on the conversation and make matters worse.  (Some people thrive on mess!)
     Social media is all communications.  Whether written or spoken in a video, you are inviting people to connect with you.  Do so with grace, self-control, and respect.  Only then can you get the full benefits of the "social" in social media.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Unwholesome Talk

    

     Christians who read their Bibles know that foul language, filthy talk, and all manner of negative statements that tear down another person are frowned upon as indicated in the Scriptures.  In fact, in the book of Ephesians, the limits are clearly stated by the apostle Paul regarding what should and should not be said.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen...Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  (4:29, 31)

     Whether you're Christian or not, using profanity (especially excessively) is both unprofessional in the workplace and possibly offensive in social settings.  Because people won't always tell you directly that they're bothered by coarse language, you may think it is acceptable to proceed with profanity-laced comments in your conversations with them.  Consider, however, that though they may be smiling or expressionless on the outside, they may be cringing on the inside.  As with most people, those who don't curse tend to associate with people like them.  Therefore, if that's not the environment they're used to, they may find it off-putting when they do hear people spew our foul and/or filthy language in their presence.  We should be cognizant of the people with whom we interact.  Just because certain behavior is acceptable to us doesn't mean it's an automatic okay for others.
      Another aspect of the language addressed in these Scriptures is negative talk--gossip, backbiting, arguing, and accusations.  Even if you don't let an F-bomb drop in your confrontations, it is still unacceptable to rage against another individual when disagreements occur.  Since we know that conflict in inevitable in life, we need to better prepare ourselves for when it occurs.  There's no escaping it so we need to be ready.
     Anger that is allowed to fester because solutions have not been sought or implemented can turn into bitterness over time.  I have seen bitter people sabotage work on the job, back stab friends, and make malicious attempts to discredit people they've determined are their enemies.  Bitterness can be vengeful.  You can hear it in the hard line people take when faced with the situation that angers them.  Words like, "I don't care.  I hope he fails."  Or "She got what was coming.  I'm glad I could witness it."  These are as hurtful as any curse words.
     In the Scriptures, we are encouraged to look for ways to resolve our issues and address matters with a more conciliatory heart.  We all need forgiveness.  There isn't a solitary soul that doesn't.  Unfortunately, we don't give it as readily as we should, neither do we ask for it as often as we should. Gentleness and kindness have retreated from the hearts of many, and we seem to be more prepared to fight than to try peace.  Where is empathy and compassion?  They are not far away; just buried beneath resentment and pain.  We need to be more intentional about putting them at the forefront of our interactions.
     Words matter.  Make sure those you choose to use daily are wholesome and encouraging.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Speaking Up: A Lesson From "Hidden Figures"


     When I saw the movie "Hidden Figures", my first thought was that every student should go see it for all of its inspiring lessons in math, science, and history.  But there was another inspiring lesson that should not be missed and could make all the difference in an individual's success--effective and powerful communications.  Throughout the movie we see women of color speaking up when it counted.  Asking for promotions, stepping in for one another when they felt wronged, and demanding to be "in the room" so they could perform their jobs accurately.  Though the movie highlights the phenomenal math skills of three black women who made a significant contribution to our nation's history at a time of heightened racism and sexism, language and communications were also pertinent skills they mastered.  Communications is an essential skill for success today as well.  Beyond science, numbers, calculations, and historical context, the women speak up and out when it is critical to do so.  Students could benefit from seeing this kind of confidence displayed in the face of adversity and unfairness.  Women who struggle with the boldness to ask for what they want could benefit from this inspiring story too.
     Speaking up can be difficult to do in a situation where the political landscape can cost an employee her job.  I have been in far too many environments where employees were afraid to speak the truth for fear of retaliation.  Unfortunately, it is all too common to find this fear in a culture where trust is nonexistent.  Employees clam up when they should be speaking up.  In these instances, management doesn't care what their employees think so they don't ask.  And because they're not asked, the employee must take the initiative to address matters that would otherwise go unattended.  But first, they must summon the courage to say what's on their minds regardless of the repercussions, and that is a difficult thing to do for many.  Mostly because the backlash is too high a price to pay for uncertain results.  As a consequence, employees suffer in silence until they retire or get another job that empowers them and respects their opinions or until they quit abruptly because they just can't take it anymore. 
     The barrier is not always the hard-nosed boss with control issues that stifles open communications.  It is also the friendly boss who the employees like.  Because the employees have developed a supportive relationship with the boss, they may be reluctant to be open and honest for fear of damaging a relationship they value.  As an example, the boss might be a non-confrontational person who avoids conflict as much as possible.  There are times when she should step up and handle a matter that is causing issues for her staff.  Perhaps it's another department that refuses to share pertinent information with her department, and it causes delays and errors when collaborating on projects.  Instead of the boss addressing the matter with the other department's boss, she doesn't want to rock the boat so she tells her team to work around the issue.  They don't feel they should yield to uncooperative cohorts and want her to say so.  But because she may become resentful or resistant to being pushed into a zone where she is uncomfortable, employees refrain from suggesting she take charge more.
     Speaking up is essential for progress, personal growth, and higher productivity.  Failing to do so when it matters is costly in all those areas.  It shows a lack of confidence by an individual in their ability to lead, and it weakens that individual's position in the eyes of his or her team.  But assertiveness can be learned.  Need help speaking up?  We'll show you how.  Contact us at betty@thesharpersolution.com or call (803) 622-4511.

Monday, January 9, 2017

BLIND SPOT: When Your Conversation Is Negative

     Jasmine sat at the restaurant table anxiously awaiting her blind date.  She had been set up by her cousin Ava with Ava's coworker Jason.  Ava had described him as a guy who was smart, hard-working, and fun.  Jasmine had grown weary of the dating scene since most of the guys she'd gone out with lately were shallow and boring.  She was looking for a fresh approach and interesting conversation.
     Jason walked up to her table and introduced himself with a smile.  She immediately felt his warmth and thought this one might actually go better than all the rest.  The conversation started easily enough, but Ava felt a shift in the energy between them after about 15 minutes.  She couldn't figure it out, but she felt Jason cool down a bit.  Eventually the conversation became stilted, and Jason seemed disengaged.  Finally he asked her a tough question.
     "Do you like yourself?"  Jasmine was stunned.
     "What do you mean?" she asked.
     "Well, you've been very negative about who you are so I can't help but wonder if you like yourself."
     Jasmine was taken aback and did a quick inventory of what she'd said up to that point.  She didn't need to think too hard because Jason ran it down for her.
     "I complimented you on your dress, and you said it was old instead of saying 'thank you'.  I told you that I'd heard you were a bright lawyer, and you said you hated your job.  I told you that I heard you had a great sense of humor, and you told me you can be difficult to deal with at times.  So far, all I've heard are negatives from you when I had such high expectations before talking to you."
     Jasmine was immediately embarrassed by what he'd said.  He was right.  She'd said all of those negative things about herself.  Worse, she was turning her new date off.  She wondered how many of her previous dates soured not because of the guys, but because of her.  She'd hardly noticed how negative she was being.  It was a blind spot for her.


     Likely you've experienced a scenario like this.  We've all been around that person who enters a conversation that is meaningful and light and turns it into a dark and difficult exchange.  They suck all the life out of the room, and people start looking uncomfortable and fidgety the more the person speaks.  Soon folks start finding excuses for why they have to leave.  After all, who wants to be around an energy drain like that?
     If you've ever been told you can be negative at times, consider your usual language.  How often are you diminishing a compliment or being self-deprecating in an effort to appear humble?  Maybe you're upset about the way things are going at work, and you talk about it a lot.  Do you come across as a whiner?  Since this behavior may be a blind spot for you, ask someone who won't hedge in giving you tough feedback.  Ask them if you present negatively in most of your comments.  If you discover that you do, then it's time for accountability.
      Now that you know, what will you do to change the habit?  It's as simple as replacing the degrading attitude, the negative thinking, and the complaining conversation with a brighter outlook.  It's about tuning in to the sound of your own voice, and paying close attention to your thoughts.  When your thoughts wander into that old territory of dissatisfaction, then S.H.I.F.T.--Speak Hope Instead of Failing Talk.  SHIFT your thinking and your language.  It takes skill and patience with yourself, but it can be done.
     If you need help in how to SHIFT your attitude, call us at (803) 622-4511 or drop us a line at betty@thesharpersolution.com.  We can help.
    

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

When You're Not Just Talking Too Much But You're Saying Too Much


     Remember when we used to say "TMI" to indicate when a person was providing "Too Much Information"?  This information isn't data that bores people to sleep.  This was personal information that was too intimate to share out loud with other people.  We all know someone who talks too much, but sometimes there are people who say too much.  Within minutes of sparking a conversation, they've revealed some private tidbit that is best kept to themselves.  It becomes awkward for the listener, especially if that listener is you.
     Situations like this become most challenging at work.  Imagine sitting in front of an important client with a coworker who uses no filters, and he launches into some quip about his girlfriend and his wife's complaints about him.  He thinks he's being funny, but the client offers only a wry smile and a "what's-up-with-this-guy" look.  You are immediately embarrassed for him, and you are frantically searching for a way to shift from his awkward statements and back to the business at hand.
     We've all been there.  Some of you may be bold enough to say, "Hey, that was weird.  Can you not do that again?"  Or "You're oversharing again.  Can you put up the filters?  You made the customer squirm."  But others of you are too polite to say anything, and you struggle with how to handle the situation.  Maybe you're the person who overshares, and you've heard these complaints at times in your life.  What has to happen to avoid this situation playing itself out over and over again?
     There are at least two things you can do.
     1)  Tell the person.  Don't do it out of frustration because you've had enough.  But go to him or her calmly and explain that sometimes they share too many intimate details that are best left outside of the workplace.  Establish boundaries for them by giving examples of when their sharing has shifted the momentum in a meeting or detracted from the importance of a topic.
     2)  Recommend coaching so a professional can help the individual work on this habit that can be annoying and even costly at work.  Customers may feel overwhelmed by this behavior and choose not to work with your company because of it.
     Being talkative is a challenge in itself.  Add a person who says inappropriate things at inappropriate times, and the conversation takes a dive in quality.  If you need a coach to help you with oversharing, contact us at www.thesharpersolution.com.  We can help.