James was growing frustrated with Fran. She would not take the project in the direction he felt it should go. When he tried telling her how the direction he was suggesting would yield a better result, she listened. Fran wasn’t trying to upset her colleague. His frustration was causing her stress. But she did what she thought was best for the project outcome. James remained convinced that his idea was the “correct” one. Every time they were in a meeting together, he asked Fran, “Why don’t you just do what I’m suggesting?” Fran felt so attacked and belittled by his public attacks that she couldn’t engage. She simply shrugged and replied, “It’s not what I think is best for the project.”
When you approach a colleague, a team member, your boss, or even your spouse, what lens are you looking through? Are you focused on what you want? Are you considering what the other person wants? How are you finding middle ground?
Too often, we don’t think about how our message may be perceived. We become very focused on what we want to say, what we want out of the conversation, or what our opinion is about the other person’s actions/lack of action. This approach is very inwardly focused. There are times when that’s totally appropriate. But occasions where you’re trying to communicate with someone else are generally not those times.
Regardless of whether you’re engaging with one person or speaking to a group of 100, you have a responsibility to frame what you are trying to communicate through the lens of whoever is on the receiving end of your message. “Self” is our starting point by default, but it can’t be the focus of the message. When it is, you risk not being heard in the best-case scenario, and deeply offending someone else in the worst.
This is our checklist for preparing to share your opinions or information with someone else when your goal is to meet them where they are and to be heard.
- Who are they? Who is this person or group in relation to you? What do you know about their hard-wired communication style? How are they likely to hear/receive what you have to say?
- What is the purpose of this interaction? What outcome are you striving for? Are you making a decision together? Brainstorming? Planning something? Reaching an agreement?
- Why do they think they are interacting with you? Do they know your answer to #2 coming into the conversation/meeting/presentation? Or does it need to be shared up front? Do they potentially have another agenda in mind?
- What is their starting point? Any beliefs, biases, attitudes, etc. that may inform how they will react and interact with you? What do they already know about the topic you’re addressing?
- Given your answers to the preceding questions, what should be your starting point?
When you make the effort to meet someone where they are, rather than where you are or where you think they ought to be, you will go further. You will get better results. You will bring them along. Your ideas will be heard. You will build trust.
We need more trust right now. There’s an overabundance of people talking at one another. It’s happening in our workplaces and in the public space. Don’t contribute to the problem. Take the time to craft your approach based on looking through the lens of who you’re communicating with, rather than just your own. It will make all the difference.