The workbook for my Fully Alive Leadership© workshops encourages note taking through a fill-in-the-blanks format. Typically, I see all the pens wagging as I hit the main points, yet in a presentation early in my work there was one attendee sitting with his arms folded and I wondered what was going on. I worried that he was having a terrible experience and getting no value whatsoever. Finally, I could stand it no longer and, at a break, I approached him. I can still see us and hear our conversation in my mind’s eyes and ears as though it just happened.
I said, “I can’t help but notice that you’re not taking any notes and are sitting with your arms folded. I’m concerned that I’m just wasting your time, that you’re not getting any value at all.”
He sat up straight, opened his eyes wide and said, “Oh, no – that’s not it at all. You said something early in our session and it really hit home. I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it and realize I have to make some really important changes.” So much for my ability to know what other are thinking.
Here’s what’s useful about that exchange to you. When you speak, others hear your words and it’s a near-certainty that they understand something other than what you meant. Communication is that difficult. Indeed, leadership and communication guru Lee Thayer says that the fundamental result of all communication is misunderstanding. So, when your people hear your marching orders, nod and proceed to take action, they may do their best and still wind up well off the center of the bulls eye of what you intended and conflict just might ensue.
If you would be the best leader you can be and develop the best, most engaged followers, check for understanding – ask them what they’re hearing. Be compulsive about it, because your notion of what others understand just might be as shaky as mine was about that attendee at my workshop.
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