The Art of Communication: Learning to Listen Without Prejudice

October 11, 2016

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
We’ve all been in the situation where we can’t wait to jump into a conversation to interject our own perspective or point of view based on our perceived notion that what’s just come out of someone’s mouth is flat out wrong.

Even if we can wait our turn to speak our hearts begin to beat a bit faster, our mind races with potential responses to the offending party and when we respond, we introduce our personal biases into the mix based on our own life experiences. Nine times out of ten this leads to an argument whether the topic is sports, politics, music, business or someone’s own particular fashion sense. I’ve watched it happen, I’ve been a part of it and admit it, so have you.

I’ve often made the observation that the Good Lord gave most of us two eyes, two ears and one mouth which says to me that we should probably consider spending two thirds of our time watching and listening and a third of it talking. Easier said than done, particularly when we have something we really, really want to say. But listening without prejudice and learning to hold our tongue can be done and here’s how.

1.) Use the 30 Second Rule
In the heat of the moment it's so easy to let our tongues slip and say something we might regret later. Rather than releasing your tongue in anger or in haste when someone says something you feel isn’t correct take a deep breath and count to thirty. Remember it takes much more strength to hold your tongue in patience than to release it in anger and the results of learning to do this effectively help to keep you cool under pressure whatever the situation may be.

2.) Consider the other person’s point of view
We’ve all been socialized in different ways which lead us to have unique perspectives on life which isn’t a bad thing. Just because someone has a different point of view from your own doesn’t make them bad or wrong it just makes them different. You may not agree with someone’s point of view but just taking a moment to consider it may give you a different perspective on why they feel the way they do.

3.) Consider what you would say if there were children in the room
During my nine years as a public servant I always reminded my colleagues that children might be watching our actions during any given meeting. Keeping that thought at the forefront of my mind often times stopped me from saying things I would probably have liked to but that were ultimately better left unsaid. Even though we’re not all in the public eye in our business or personal relationships this is still a good rule of thumb to use to avoid saying something to another person that you definitely wouldn’t say in front of a child.

4.) Picture your conversation is being recorded
In today’s world where privacy is becoming a thing of the past, it's not a real stretch to think that anything you say may be being recorded. When you’re tempted to let loose and say something you probably shouldn’t, take a moment to think about your words being recorded and put online where it could be played for a worldwide audience on a continual loop. Thinking about things that way usually helps to keep your ears open and your mouth closed.

5.) Remember what your mother always told you: be polite!
In a world that seems to get less and less civil every day, there’s simply something refreshing about a polite listener who takes the time to listen to what others have to say. This is definitely a character trait which can be developed over time and something that contributes immeasurably to good communication skills. Plus, being a polite listener would make your mother proud so why not do it, right?

Becoming a good and open minded listener is undoubtedly not rocket science but it does take time, effort and self-discipline. However to be able to really listen to others without interjecting your own preconceived notions into the conversation is one of the most important aspects of becoming a truly great communicator.

Ultimately I’ve found that when considering the art of communication it's always good to remember it's hard for people to get your message if they feel like you’re ignoring theirs.

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