Are You Listening to Those Whose Communication Style are Different from Yours?

are you listening to those whose communication style is differentI realized I am probably not listening well to those whose communication style are opposite that of mine!  My 10 year old daughter, Isabel, made me realized this lately.   I am a pretty fast talker who will inadvertently interrupt others when I get excited about a subject. Isabel, on the other hand, is the exact opposite.  She can pause as long as 30 second or a minute before speaking her next sentence.

Here is one of our latest conversations

Me: So what happened? You don’t look as excited or as happy as I would expect after a first water rafting trip with your friends?    How was it?
Isabel: It was okay. [silence] Me:  Did something happen?   You look dehydrated.   Was it not fun?   Did you get hurt?  Was it cold?
Isabel [frustrated]: You never listen to me…I don’t want to talk about it..
Me: [complete dumbfounded] But you haven’t said anything….
Isabel [she lets out a ‘ugh”]:I was still thinking about what to say.
Me: [staring … thinking]: How was I supposed to know that?  You were completely silent
Isabel:  [she lets out a another ugh and stopped talking. ]

I have had about 3 or 4 conversations like this with Isabel in the last few months.   Of course, every mother daughter relationship naturally has conflicts as she is getting older and into her rebellious age.   The repeat pattern of our conversation however made me realize that perhaps she was right in some respect.  Maybe I wasn’t listening, at least not the way she was expecting.

Here is what I learned so far. Hope this will not only help me connect better with Isabel but also improve my ability to listen and communicate with colleagues that communicates differently than me.   When it comes to people who are what I consider a more “deliberate, slow” communicator, I need to remember the following.

  • Let there be silence.  Silence to a speaker like Isabel doesn’t mean she is done.  She may very well be thinking how to phrase her next sentence.   What I tend to do naturally is fill silence with more questions and words.  That interrupts her thinking process and to her, I am aggravating her as “I am not listening.”  It seems that way to her even though I was speaking after she is silent.
  • When speaking, keep it short and open ended.  I was also peppering Isabel with many version of the same questions.  She would receive it better if I just keep it simple – “Are you okay? Can you tell me what happened?”  and stop there to let her decide.  When I ask more questions, I am just frustrating a slow talker like her and convincing her to say nothing more.
  • Listen with the intent to understand vs the intent to reply.  I think I do have this intent with Isabel.  My intend is to understand, but because I am not used to such long pause, I end up coming across more aggressive to her than I realized.  To her, any interruption from me or not pausing to wait through a bit of silence meant I wasn’t listening to her.

While I have a better understanding of this, it is still not easy to remember or pause when I talk to Isabel now.   What I tried to do is be conscious of her different style and literally stop myself from responding immediately if we are talking. I literally am telling myself to count to five and then speak.  I notice now during those 5 seconds, she often start speaking again, making it a bit easier for her to share more and for more to understand better.

Have I figured out how to translate my learning to work yet?  Not well yet.  I am trying. I lead many calls with many different kind of stakeholders at work. What I am trying to practice now is refraining from speaking too often.  I know it’s odd.  Most people have trouble speaking up.  I think I have trouble not speaking up.   I noticed however when I make a conscious effort to also pause a few seconds after someone speaks, I have found out surprising insights.

If you are a fast talker, like me, I hope you found this story helpful. Best wishes in improving your communication and listening skills.

Your comments: How well do you communicate with those who have a different style than you?  I look forward to your comments

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Robert Chee Choong. Gan

Yes, listen with the intent to understand before contextualising and relating to the subject at hand. Then think through holistically before responding and gradually adapting our communication style to the other side.