The other day, I was minding my own business, thinking small thoughts devoid of insight or humor, when I came across this quote from a writer claiming to be my taller, stronger younger brother. As you’ll see, it’s the perfect lead in for today’s email.
“I always say “yes” — even when no one is asking a question, or speaking, or physically near me.”
—Alex Baia, in McSweeneys
Saying yes to an unclear request is like eating food blindfolded
You’re expected to take an action, but you don’t know what you’re dealing with, why it’s coming your way, or what will happen if you follow through.
Now you know the first thing to do when someone makes a request of you. Ask yourself: is it clear what they want and when they want it by? If not, ask them to clarify.
Clarifying requests for the win!
Pausing makes you powerful
You can achieve incredible breakthroughs by pausing before you speak. Just one short pause! There may be no better way to idiot proof your emotional intelligence. Consider:
- That thing you predicted would go wrong did go wrong. You feel these words emerging from your body: Why didn’t you listen to me the first time? Then a lightbulb goes on inside your head: There I go again, doing the grumpy devil’s advocate thing. You bite your tongue and take three deep breaths. Moment of arrogant indignation averted.
- Your teammate is describing why she thinks a new customer strategy may fail. She’s smart and persuasive, but you think she’s forgetting a important fact. You lean forward and move your hands into the I’m interrupting you position. The guy next to you shoots you an evil look. The message is clear: Hey, buddy, you don’t have the floor. Hold your fire. You realize this is one of those moments when the good guy keeps listening. You wiggle your toes to discharge energy and keep your mouth shut. A small win for the new bro code.
- Tall Guy from a different business unit asks you to do him a favor. It involves undermining a colleague who recently undermined you. Eye for an eye, right? You nod your head up and down and are about to verbalize this Yes. Then something surprising happens. Your hands start sweating and you feel a dull throbbing pain in your neck. What are these sensations all about? It’s hard to tell, but they’re sending you a signal. Hold your horses! Instead of saying “Yes”, you pull a Jedi Leadership Trick out of your pocket: the paraphrase. “Let me make sure I understand what you’re asking: you’d like me to________.” When your colleague hears this request reflected back to him, something shifts. “On second thought,” he tells you. “Cancel that favor.”
It’s interesting to see what big effects these little shifts in your conversational routine can have.
Listening better is like fixing a clogged toilet
You can’t fix a clogged toilet by flushing it harder. You have to remove the obstacle. Listening is the same way. The best way to listen better isn’t to stretch each ear open two millimeters more or turn your head 15 degrees. It’s to eliminate the things that are blocking you from listening.
Here’s the thing about obstacles to listening. There aren’t a thousand of them. A relatively small number of obstacles clog people’s listening over and over again. In a probability cloud, you’d find one or two showing up most often.
This is another area where the Enneagram shines. Each Enneagram type has its own patented obstacles to listening. For One/Perfectionist, it’s the urge to be right. For Eight/Challenger, it’s the avoidance of vulnerability. For Nine/Peacemaker, it’s keeping the peace.
That’s the great thing about identifying the key obstacle to your listening. Once you identify it, you can remove it.
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