Picture this…I’m helping a friend to find a Senior Executive for a Canadian based multinational organization. Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve met with a series of wonderful people but we are still searching because we’ve yet to find the perfect fit.
I come across an interesting CV and decide to reach out. Mr. X answers the phone and we have a short conversation. The only day that he is available to meet is three days from now. I’m not available at that time so I suggest that he meet with my colleague and let him know I’ll set it up. He says this is perfect and that he looks forward to speaking with me then…..
I hang up the phone with a kind of puzzled look on my face. Did he just say, he looks forward to speaking with me? I spent five minutes telling him about how the conversation would be with someone else… I decide that it must just have been a figure of speech and I set up the meeting and e-mail him the details.
Mr. X has his interview. The role isn’t right for him.
Normally this would not be of particular interest. What makes this situation more interesting is that the day after the interview, I got an email from him thanking me for the conversation the day before!
The whole situation has me feeling strange. Did he not realize that we were different people? I guess we’ll never know what was really going on with Mr. X but it made me think.
How often in a conversation are we just listening for our chance to talk? How many things are we missing because we are so busy trying to remember a point we want to make or trying to figure out an answer to something that was raised much earlier in the conversation?
Fundamental to our ability to communicate effectively is our ability to connect with someone in the moment and to really speak to what s/he is truly saying to us. In order to be able to do this, we need to really be listening.
How many times have you started a conversation by throwing out a question and then, through the course of talking more, (rambling even) realize you’re actually looking for the answer to a different question? This happens all the time. In fact, one of the many advantages to “talking things through” or “thinking out loud” is that you get better clarity on what you want to figure out. Finding a solution is actually way easier if the “right” question(s) are being asked in the first place. If we aren’t really listening or we get focused on something that came up early in a conversation and we don’t listen all the way through, we risk responding to something other than the “real” question. No matter how brilliant what we are saying is, if we are responding the “wrong” question, it’s kind of irrelevant. You’ll know if you’ve responded to the “wrong” question because you’ll see the look of disappointment or frustration on the face of the person across from you. S/he was coming to you for help and now feels an awkward “disconnect”. It actually feels like a slap. The situation is equally painful for you as you are left feeling confused and frustrated. The help you were so obviously trying to provide was not helpful.
Luckily the solution is simple and actually, I think that once you get comfortable doing it, you’ll like it because at the least it will make your conversations more enjoyable and more with practice you can become an amazing problem solver!
Here it is – stop worrying about saying the perfect thing. Stop worrying about sounding brilliant. Stop worrying about the time or whatever you have to do after the conversation. Let go of the distractions and just be in the moment. Look your friend in the eye and hear what s/he is saying – all the way through. Ask questions to understand more. And, in the end, when the time comes for you to offer feedback, take a breath and speak when you are truly ready. Say what you really think and let how you feel come through. Even if the person you are talking to doesn’t agree with you, s/he will appreciate your sincerity and be far more open to exploring what you are raising because s/he won’t be feeling that slap of disconnect. This simple act of pausing and being present in the moment can have a profound impact on your career as well as all of the relationships in your life.
As I said, I don’t really know what was going on with Mr. X but it strikes me that if a person got fixated on needing to sound worthy of being interviewed or perhaps even fixated on his view that “the person” doing the phone screen was not of huge importance, he could perhaps miss the fact that “the person” was actually two people.
You deserve the time to connect fully with the people in all aspects of your life. Stop listening for your chance to talk and just start listening and talking.