No, I’m not talking about trench coats or the number two activity on the web (porn is BEHIND social media these days!).
I’m referring to common communication challenges that can be easily overcome by pausing to bring others along in your thinking process.
When we present ideas to other people, especially new ideas, we tend to focus on the recommendations rather than the thinking processes that led to our current position. We push hard on the “what, when and how” while often overlooking the importance of “why.” We’re also usually in a hurry to get to the end of our presentation so we can jump right into overcoming objections and ensure that people see things the way we do.
The only problem is that people often don’t see things the same way, even after we finish talking. That’s why pausing to bring others along in our thinking process can be very helpful for several reasons.
As human beings, we unconsciously assume that others think and see the world the same way we do. On the conscious level we know it’s not true. But it’s such an ingrained belief, and we’re all running so fast constantly, that we hold on to it with amazing tenacity. Exposing our thinking process to others reminds us that people don’t see the world the same way. And until we understand how they see it and why (and vice versa) our communications with them will often get muddled.
The human brain also has a natural tendency to fill in voids when information is not readily available. When we don’t share our thinking process with others, they fill in the blanks on their own, usually with negative information. Exposing our thinking minimizes the stuff people make up to fill in the gaps and ensures that they have the right information. More important, it eliminates having to go back and talk about the same things over and over or correct actions taken when we thought we agreed, but just under the surface were miles apart.
To expose your thinking process, make it visible to others using a simple three-step process. Begin by stating your assumptions and describing the data that led to them. For example, “Here’s what I think and here’s the supporting evidence that led me to this position.”
Next, provide more detail for the reasoning behind your assumptions. “Based on my knowledge of this area, I assumed X, Y or Z.” Or, “Based on our previous experience in this area, I assumed…” Finally, explain the consequences or outcomes of your thinking. “I came to this conclusion because… and here’s what it means to this team.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? What could be more fun than exposing how you think to a room full of people who don’t see the world the same as you?
Actually, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. It may feel uncomfortable the first time or two. But once you see the light bulbs come on as people start to understand where you’re coming from and why, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it before.
If you really want to improve communications with your team, don’t stop there. After communicating your thinking process, publicly test your conclusions and assumptions by encouraging people to give feedback.
Start by identifying where you feel your reasoning is the most tentative. Then encourage your team to openly explore your data and assumptions. Avoid getting defensive (no easy task!) by refraining from commenting until everyone has had a chance to express their opinion. Make sure all viewpoints get put out on the table, especially when they contradict your train of thought.
If you really want to take the conversation to another level, ask others on your team to make their thinking processes visible. Ask questions like: “What leads you to conclude that? Can you help me understand your thinking here? Where did those assumptions come from? I want to make sure I’m hearing you correctly, are you saying that…?”
Engaging in these types of conversations will produce some amazing results!
The process draws out ideas and opinions from people who might otherwise hesitate to speak up. It helps people learn how to listen to feedback without automatically going into a defensive mode. And it leads to critical issues getting explored at a much deeper level.
Perhaps most important, it reminds us in a very tangible way that we don’t always see things the same way. That alone makes the process worth the price of admission.
So get out there and expose your thinking! You have nothing to lose but the errors, mistakes and bad decisions that occur when team members misunderstand and misinterpret each other.