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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Listening WRONG

     Have you ever had an occasion when someone asked your opinion about something, and before you could finish responding, they cut you off?  Right smack-dab in the middle of your statement, they start talking like you haven't uttered a word.  Remember how frustrated you felt?  Maybe not the first time, but around the fourth or fifth time, you're done.  Either you're escaping the conversation physically or you've tuned out altogether.  After all, why do you have to contribute?  The individual seems to be having the conversation all by himself.  That's listening wrong.
     Listening wrong is not the same as misunderstanding what someone said or misinterpreting what you thought you heard.  That would require thought.  Most wrong listening comes as a result of not thinking about what's being said.  An example is trying to multitask while someone is talking to you.  Yesterday, I instructed my nine-year-old daughter to remove the lid from the pot if she should hear it boil over while I was in the bathroom.  I didn't want to turn the heat down because I would only be gone for a couple minutes, and I needed to get dinner finished.  She cooks with me on occasion so I felt comfortable she could do something as simple as turn down the heat and remove the lid completely if she heard the contents boil over.  While I was giving her these simple instructions, she wouldn't take her eyes off the television.  So I said what every parent says:  "Are you listening to me?"  Of course her reply was as automatic as my phone ringing everyday at 6 p.m. with calls from telemarketers:  "Yeah, I heard you."  So I said what we all say:  ""Then what did I say?"  She finally looks from the TV and says, "You said if the pot boils over, put the top on it."  Wrong listening.
     Take time to give people your undivided attention to make sure you are processing all that they are saying.  If it's only going to take a minute, then you're not losing anything major in the grand scale of life.  In fact, you might be saving yourself a big headache by tuning in.  Carelessly tuning out can cost you in ways you'd rather not pay.  So here's a bit of advice to save yourself some hassle:  since listening is a choice, choose to listen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What It Means to Be C.R.A.S.S.

     You've been around them.  Those people who make off-colored remarks, foul comments, crude statements without care or concern for whom they may be offending.  You know--generally acting like the last three letters in the word crass.  Which is how they are behaving.  Most think they're being witty.  Others are trying to get a rise out of those around them.  The immature think it makes them look bigger, badder, superior in some way to denigrate somebody else.  Men might refer to a woman's most intimate parts in mixed company to disrespect, intimidate or demean women.  Women might do the same thing for the same reasons except they are targeting one female in particular.  Or maybe they're just stupid and don't know it.  Whatever the motivation, being crass in communication doesn't work for anybody.  It serves absolutely no purpose other than to make the speaker look foolish.
    So what does it mean to be crass?  I use this acronym:  Communicating Repulsively Amid Sensitive/Sensible Situations.  For example, a sensible situation would be when a female salesperson, after receiving repeated unclear objections from a male prospect on not purchasing her product, finally asks, "After answering all your objections satisfactorily, what exactly do you need from us to get you to say yes?"  His crass response with a big smile:  "You can get on your knees, and b--w me."  Yep, I got that response once.  Or a female rapper--who shall remain nameless--on a major awards show telling male rappers to "d--k up" (whatever that means) in her acceptance speech.  So unnecessary.  So obnoxious.  So crass.
     If this is the way you communicate, then let me be crass--your way is as intelligent as trying to explain that in a "legitimate rape" a woman's body can prevent pregnancy.  Yeah, about that intelligent.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Listening Is a Choice

     As a mom of two, I've grown very adept over the years in not listening.  Let's face it.  Most of what kids have to say is not nearly as important as what we need to hear.  As much as we want to be attentive to their every comment, we just can't.  Such is the case for adults as well.  We can't spend inordinate amounts of time listening to other people's comments, opinions, questions, and statements.  We have to find ways to decipher what's important on a whim so we can focus on priorities.  One big problem I experienced with not listening is that I tuned out so often that I tended to overlook the important stuff.  I had to re-program myself to tune back in.  The greatest lesson I learned is that listening is a choice.  I can choose which bits of information are pertinent at the time, which I should shelve for later, and which I can discard because it's useless.
     So--when should we choose to listen?  The short answer is always.  In order to determine what's priority, we must first make the choice to listen to what is being shared.  After only a few seconds, you should be able to determine where to "file" the information.  I've become very skilled at knowing immediately whether the communication flowing my way should give me pause.  I ask myself these three questions:
  1. Is this applicable to me?
  2. Is there a deadline or a tight time frame that requires my attention?
  3. Is the speaker credible and his/her comments/questions substantive?
     Hey, I know the last question seems a bit stuffy or arrogant.  But consider it.  People yak all the time.  Many times we get bogged down by their need to push their agenda or their priorities.  We have to ask ourselves if what they're saying has anything to do with us.  If it really matters in the grand scheme of what we have to get done that day.  You have to question whether the speaker is adding quality information in helping you meet your goals or are they hindering you with extra requests that benefit them only.  Not providing too much of your time and attention to these people will help you to stay focused and on target.  It takes skill to not allow yourself to get sidetracked.  You don't want to seem dismissive or uncaring or even rude.  But the fact is, choosing to listen to shallow conversation is the biggest time waster in most of our lives, and choosing to ignore it should be our top priority.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Overcoming the Fear of Feedback

     This past weekend, I attended a conference and experienced something I'd not witnessed before.  During the lunch at which a speaker was featured, the gentleman who was introducing the speaker took a bold step.  While delivering the introduction, the lunch time crowd grew a bit chatty and loud.  The gentleman, Ed, stopped what he was saying and allowed his silence to silence the crowd.  They got the message and quieted down.  He punctuated his point by stating, "Please allow me the opportunity to honor our speaker today by giving him a proper introduction.  I would appreciate it if you all remained quiet until I'm finished."  He got great approval from the people sitting around my table, and I was impressed with his candor.  Most often when I've witnessed this kind of behavior from an audience, the speaker usually tries to compete with the crowd by continuing to speak in hopes that they will hold themselves accountable or their peers would shush them.  However, this speaker took control.  He gave his audience valuable feedback without fear of reprisals, and actually got what he wanted.
     His action was only one means of providing feedback.  There are many.  Next week, I'll share a few.  But today, I would like to offer brief insight into why we don't give feedback as readily as we should.  There are at least three reasons why we practice avoidance.
     1)  We are afraid to provide feedback.  I'm not talking knee-shaking fear, but fear of hurting someone's feelings.  They may be a close friend or family member--the very people with whom we should feel the most comfortable sharing unpleasant comments.  However, we often feel better offering critical feedback to a stranger than the ones with whom we're closest.  We're afraid they'll get angry with us or reject us because they somehow feel rejected by our assessments of their behavior.  At work, we are also afraid of providing feedback because of the fear of repercussions.  Employees are especially reluctant to tell a difficult boss honestly about how they feel.  They are rarely invited to, and if they do, they believe they will face retaliation for their candidness.  And in many instances, they do.  Unfortunately, this type of bad behavior comes from the bosses who need this feedback the most.  Which leads to reason number two.
     2)  We are trying to avoid the backlash from those who are unable to receive negative feedback.  Sometimes, it doesn't matter how constructive you are with feedback, some people just don't take it well.  You may have to tell a co-worker that she dresses unprofessionally on the job or a boss that they lied to you or a friend that you feel he's taking advantage of your kindness.  You know they can be volatile, and this could turn ugly.  So you avoid being direct and try useless kid-glove approaches.  Then you wonder why they're not getting the message.  I know it's frustrating, but soft-pedaling doesn't always work.
     3)  We don't know what to say.  We want to provide critical input, but we can't seem to find the right words that won't come across too harshly or judgmental.  We don't know how to present a solid story or an acceptable example or even a simple word or phrase that clearly conveys what we want to say.  It takes too much effort to formulate a meaningful message, so we don't try.
     None of these is helpful to you or the person who really needs to hear from you.  In order for them to improve, and for your relationship to grow, it is necessary to help it along.  Taking the path of least resistance only widens the already broad road to destructive relationships.  Get over your fears and speak up.