The peskiest problem for any listener isn’t what that other person does. It’s what’s happening in our own heads. The speaker says something or does something and before we know it, the hijackers are at the door of our brains, armed and dangerous. They want to take us down, to drag us to the most reflexive place possible where we run, fight, or freeze.
But you aren’t powerless. You have a superpower. You can throw a switch that distracts the brain hijackers from their task just long enough to get control again.
Here’s how. Next time you notice your brain getting swept away by that reflexive reaction, ask it a couple of questions I originally learned from Mickey Connolly’s wonderful little book, The Communication Catalyst:
- How might this person be interpreting the facts we’re all staring at? Notice how this question forces you to sort fact from interpretation rather than getting swept away into your own story, namely that this person is a horrible, stupid, dangerous human being.
- Why might a reasonable person interpret the facts that way? Yes, this question assumes that your colleague is reasonable. This is what it means to really live out that high-minded maxim of “assuming positive intent.”
These questions befuddle the reflexive part of your brain. It simply can’t answer them. It kicks them upstairs to the more thoughtful, other-person oriented part of your brain.
And yes, these questions slow you down. By now, you know just how important slowing down is if you want to listen like a pro.