Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Talk to Me

Have you ever wanted to look at someone and say to them, "Just talk to me...just ask me a question...just make good conversation." Several times this past week, I wanted to say to those who work with me, "Just talk to me...I understand you might be stressed, busy, confused, upset...but just talk to me." Why is it so difficult for people to approach another human being and just talk to them? Here are a few thoughts:
  • when talking to others, we might be afraid of what they might say
  • when talking to others, we don't really want to admit what we did or feel
  • when talking to others, we can't control the direction of the conversation
  • when talking to others, we will have to expose ourselves, which is incredibly scary

The importance of talking with others is that misunderstandings can get cleared up very quickly - whether I have not met someone else's expectations...or they have not met my expectations - talking with them helps to clear the air and promote understanding. Talking with people allows for both parties to be heard. Talking with people builds trust. Talking with people creates community. Talking with people promotes understanding. And all of that can create a great place to work - and to live.

So how can we more regularly and successfully talk to people? A few action items:

  1. When what you experience from others does not meet your expectations, begin by believing the best. If you can't believe the best, confront quickly.
  2. In confronting quickly, do so with a spirit of inquiry, i.e. that you may not know everything and that you want to find out what really is happening.
  3. Develop a habit of asking questions rather than making statements. And WAIT for answers from others.
  4. Put away your guns when confronting others - assume they are acting in the best interest of the organization (or relationship) and follow #3 above.
  5. Put away your defense mechanisms - when others come to talk with you, listen intently and be willing to admit you might be wrong.
  6. Similar to #5, develop an attitude that says you might be wrong at times, and that in talking with people you can actually learn something.
  7. Summon the courage to talk to others, even when it feels scary. Initiating that conversation is often the hardest part - once it gets started, it becomes much easier.
  8. Prepare ahead of time - consider what you want to say, what you want the other person to know, and what questions you need to ask. In my most difficult conversations with people, I will write out exactly what I want to say and sometimes read it verbatim to them.
  9. Trust that talking to people is a good thing, and that because you have taken the first step in creating this conversation, good things will come out of it. You will, in essence, be the hero!

One quick caveat - sometimes it doesn't always work as you would like it to. There have been many times when I have attempted to talk to someone, and the conversation falls flat on its face. The problem does not get resolved and the relationship is damaged. That's the risk we take when trying to talk to someone. However, I believe the rewards are amazing, and I will risk the few times conversations go bad for the many times they go well - and life is better because of it. At work, on boards, with friends, and at just seems better to go and talk to someone.

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