Oftentimes, when we have important things to say, we rehearse them; it could be a sales pitch, a proposal for a new idea or a crafted complaint. It might even be a conversation that we anticipate having with someone. We go through the motions in our heads of what they are likely to say, while preparing our carefully constructed responses. We do it in the shower, during the drive to work, and sometimes, our thoughts wake us up in the middle of the night and we rehearse some more.
When the time finally comes to request a pay raise from your boss, to pitch a new idea to a client, to articulate a complaint to a loved one or to offer some advice to a friend, you deliver your well rehearsed lines with Oscar winning conviction. Sometimes it works. The practice pays off, the message is understood and you get the result you hoped for. Yes, sometimes this happens, but often, it does not.
Instead, a number of other things may ensue: An argument arises and then you become defensive or angry and feel the need to justify everything. You probably say too much. It soon becomes a matter of winning rather than reaching a resolution. You stop listening to the other person and merely wait for your turn to speak so that you can fix the escalating problem. The very thing you hoped to achieve and spent so much time rehearsing is now out of reach, but why?
The problem began with you focusing on what you wanted to say. The time spent rehearsing was centered upon your own rhetoric. The time you designated to considering the other person’s responses came with the intention of preparing a rebuttal and trying to find a competitive edge. Truthfully, you probably spent minimal time thinking about the other person.
In Stephen Covey’s award winning self-help book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," habit five is "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood." This is the idea that by listening first, not only do we enable ourselves to empathize with another person’s point of view, but we also allow ourselves to acknowledge his or her feelings before our own, creating more room for empathetic listening.
Beyond this initial error of preparation comes our knee jerk reaction to the conflict that arises. When a person disagrees with something you suggest, the natural human instinct is to strive to make the person understand and agree with you. At this stage, the conversation mimics a political debate in many ways, as both parties come across as very articulate, but completely fail to listen to each other. It’s common to attempt to solve a problem by speaking more, listening less, making excuses, passing judgment and attempting not to lose face, all the while approaching the point of anger. Once we reach that point, there is no hope.
A great tool we have at our disposal takes the form of two simple words: thank you. It’s an idea mentioned in great detail by Marshall Goldsmith in his bestseller, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.”
“Thank You” accomplishes a number of things. For the receiver, it is immediate gratification. It acknowledges the importance of listening to another person’s opinions. It communicates that you value the other person, which may in turn make the other person more agreeable to you. Imagine waiting in a checkout line. Your frustration grows the longer you wait and you begin to subconsciously formulate a complaint in your head. When it’s finally your turn, the clerk greets you with an apology for the wait and a thank you you for your patience. How much more likely are you to hold your rude words back after hearing the clerk's kind ones?
Thank you’s are a powerful means to preserve good relationships. Sports that involve paired partnerships, like tennis, golf or volleyball, use them all the time. When you make a winning shot, it is good etiquette for your partner to praise you for it. Responding with a ‘thank you’ will keep feeding the successes of the partnership. Conversely, when you make a mistake that might warrant constructive feedback, your partner is much more likely to give you feedback if there is reason to believe that you will be thankful to hear it.
Finally, upon receiving words that you did not want nor expect to hear, saying ‘thank you’ will supply you with time to process, rather than responding brashly. Most often, you will be glad that the hasty response only existed in your thoughts.
Saying thank you is a strategy that will help you in a multitude of situations. Whether you’re receiving criticism that you are not ready to process or a suggestion with which you do not agree, a simple thank you may completely revolutionize your communication.
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures/Wolf Of Wall St