There are times when I feel that Grace is ignoring me. (And I’m sure she does on occasion.)
But mostly I think she just doesn’t always understand what I’m saying. What often looks to me as if she’s ignoring me is very likely a result of her not knowing what I’m saying. When she’s afraid and I say, “It’s o.k.; those kids aren’t going to hurt you,” her fear isn’t allowing her to comprehend me.
Agility is an incredible practice field to learn how to communicate more clearly. Every word, intonation, and movement becomes pieces to the puzzle that help Grace and I learn how to converse more effectively. If I said ‘tunnel’ when I meant ‘tire’ (which happened at times when I got hurried or distracted), I made it even more difficult for her to decipher my message. You’d think getting the right word would be the easy part – and it was! So you can imagine other times when I forgot to offer a hand signal or moved in a direction that was confusing instead of clarifying.
With each piece of equipment, we faced new vocabulary and protocols about when to start, stop, go fast or go slow. I’m sure if someone took me into a big room with strange-looking pieces of equipment that I’d never seen before, I’d need lots of instructions, too. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming something can be for someone else, especially when it makes sense to us.
There are lots of exercises in management and leadership courses that illustrate how challenging it can be to communicate well. For example, if we are asked to show someone how to do something while they are blindfolded and unable to see our directions, we find out how critical it is to be exact in our words, leaving nothing ambiguous that we might otherwise decipher through visual cues. If we are asked to show someone how to complete a task without speaking, we find out how incomplete our signals can be without the vocal clarifications.
When we are explaining or sharing any information, either proactively or in response to a question, there are so many places that generate potential misunderstanding. Yet we tend to leap to the conclusion that the person wasn’t listening, didn’t care, had their own agenda, or just wasn’t interested.
So the first thing you should do when you feel someone didn’t hear you: eliminate the judgment about why the person didn’t understand you–because it’s likely we won’t accurately know anyhow. Continue the conversation without any judgment and move forward with curiosity about how to fix it.
This simple (but sometimes difficult) step changes your entire attitude, allowing you to eliminate any irritation or frustration about the other person, freeing your energy towards more productive outcomes.
The second thing you can do is focus on ways to arrive at complete understanding.
In agility, you know when you’ve hit the mark when your canine partner flies through all the obstacles exactly as you intended. It’s a built-in way to check if the dog understood what you were communicating.
With our co-workers, there are easier ways than setting up an obstacle course. (Though perhaps that would be interesting, too.) The most common, and very effective, method is to ask the listener for a recap. This allows both parties to review the material for accuracy and completeness. Think about what got omitted. Was there anything incorrect? Explore things such as ‘What’s the deadline?’ ‘What are next steps?’ ‘Who will do what?’ This is the ideal time to get on the same page. The more important the topic, the more time you should spend working out all the details.
It’s likely that 100% of the message won’t be perfect on the first go-round. Remember not to make judgments like “he wasn’t listening” or “she’s been ignoring me.” Then take the time to get to a mutual understanding.
With those objectives in mind, you’ll fly through any obstacle that comes your way.