Semantics Isn’t Conversation
In any conversation, a simple word I choose may have an unexpected effect on you. I have no way of knowing when you have “history” with ordinary words I regularly use.
A word such as curiosity, or money, or gorgeous might trigger a specific and negative response. I’ll have no clue that I’ve touched off feelings, negative feelings. I won’t suspect that one word has changed the tone of my presentation from neutral to negative.
It’s an accident because of something or someone in the past.
Looking for the Wrong Words
What folks encounter negative words it’s easy for them to have negative thoughts. They transfer their experience to the the person who said them, even when the words said aren’t thought of as hurtful, negative, or mean to most people. Communication breaks. Those listeners get distracted in that way.
It’s confusing when folks flinch at something we think is innocuous. We often feel misunderstood and try to explain that we meant no harm. It’s a defensive posture that rarely works. Rather than getting caught in explanation, looking for the tripwire word can be most helpful. If we ask about the message received, we avoid the risk putting our focus on our own intentions, but on the hearing the person who feels something wrong was said.
Here are some ways to bring the focus back to listening — when it seems that we’re getting distracted by words, and not hearing ideas.
- Know what you want the outcome to be That means listening to the people — their tone, their pauses, their enthusiasm level — not just the words they’re saying.
- The fear of negative comments — in person and on our blogs — is over-blown. Allowing people to play with language and to enjoy the conversation can be a conceptual collaboration.
- Giving up the need for control — making room for tangents — can reap great benefits in involvement.
- Look at faces when the eye contact is too intense.
- Notice how your conversation partner sits and moves. Lean into the conversation, literally and figuratively.
- Ask questions about points that interest you. Find many of them.
In other words, let the person talking know you value what he or she is saying. Signal everyone around that person’s importance to all who might be around. Listen actively. In other words, pay attention with the expectation that you will be asked to solve a problem with the very next question.
Conversations sometimes derail over words that we think about differently. When that happens how do you get people to stop listening to words and start hearing ideas?
–ME “Liz” Strauss