How often do you say ‘but’? You know, you’re having a conversation with someone and perhaps you’re a little off put by the direction the conversation is heading or you feel a little attacked so you say ‘yes, but…’ and launch into all the reasons or thoughts you have on the topic. By doing this, you’ve just negated everything the other person has said. And the truth is, you most likely weren’t really listening to what they were saying, you were busy thinking about your rebuttal.
It’s such a common thing that we do in everyday conversation that most of the time it goes unnoticed. There’s a great improv rule (check out Tina Fey talking about it) that will turn those kind of conversations from being somewhat adversarial into being more collaborative. Next time you catch yourself about to say ‘yes, but…’ try saying ‘yes, and…’. What this does is change the tone of your reply to being additive rather than dismissing the other person’s thoughts. Obviously you aren’t always going to agree with everyone’s thoughts and ideas, just don’t dismiss them. Add to the discussion.
The real trick to all this though, is that you actually have to listen. I’m sure most of us know the text book checklist on how to listen – eye contact, mirror body language, don’t interrupt, ask relevant questions, look for non-verbal queues etc. (And if you’re not sure, just Google good listening skills, there are a heap of articles out there). The question is, are you actually practicing it? Like a lot of things, we lose the ability to do it without practice. I started to notice that I wasn’t listening to my daughter largely because, being 3, she called me out on it. She got frustrated and angry with me for having to ask me multiple times (politely) for something. And this is after all the times that I have been getting frustrated with her for not listening to me. Some role model!
The other side to that was I was ‘forgetting’ conversations with people. At work, at home, my friends, in all aspects of my life. I believed it was because I had too much going on, in my head and in real life. The truth was, I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t engaged in the conversation. I wasn’t present. We all have a lot going on and it’s all relative. However taking the time to stop and really listen can make life feel a bit slower, less frantic and it also just improves the quality of our interactions with those around us. I’m not saying every conversation needs to be deep and meaningful, just that it benefits everybody if we can stop, be present and really listen.
So next time, you’re about to have a conversation, put your phone or computer away, think ‘yes, and…’ and then listen.