I was at a Mexican restaurant in Texas having dinner with my friend Larry. We were catching up on our jobs, families, and our lives since we had not seen each other in over a year. Larry and I worked together at two different organizations in Texas. Larry and I ate lunch together at least 3 times a week. We were best friends at work. Now, you would call him my work husband and me his work wife. He taught me much about politics and taking care of yourself in an organization but I taught him something that day.
Our server was a very friendly lady, June, who was telling us the story of her life while bringing chips and diet coke. Larry and I were having a great conversation but stopped to listen to her each time she was at our table. She told us about how she was going back to school to get her degree because she got pregnant and couldn’t finish when she “should have.” Her little girl was now in school and she has time during the day to work and go to school. June was talking about how tough it was to balance her time and have quality time with her daughter. Larry and I listened, looked sympathetic, and made the appropriate comments and uh huh sounds in the correct places. She told us about her challenges but also how she was doing it by herself and not relying on anyone.
When June left the table, Larry asked me why didn’t I say anything to her? He knew that I just had a baby, had my own business, and was in the middle of getting my Ph.D. He continued, “You knew exactly what she was going through because you are doing it too. And you are working over 60 hours a week teaching MCSE classes.” I took a deep breath and told him that I was having a great lunch and relaxing. Also, the more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know. I told Larry that she was telling herstory. She seemed proud of herself being able to manage everything to accomplish her dream. I didn’t want to rain on her parade. She really didn’t care what I had to say.
At this point Larry asked me, “How do you know that she didn’t care what you had to say? You could have inspired her or let her know she was not in this alone. You could have given her advice.” I simply told him that she never asked us any questions. He marinated on that for a while then said, “huh”. We sat quietly, each eating our spicy food, thinking to ourselves. “My wife does that,” he said, “do you do that to your husband?” He continued, “I get in trouble because she thinks I interrupt her. She just wants to talk and talk and talk.” After we laughed for a while I told him that we call it “venting”. My best friend, Carol, and I give each other the head’s up when we just want to vent. Then we know not to speak or ask questions, but just give verbal sounds at the right time. When she finishes and asks a question then it is my turn to speak.
Many times people want to talk to be heard, and for no other reason. I have found through my coaching that when I let people talk and vent that they end up solving their own problems. During my classes on communication and questioning techniques, I have the participants complete an exercise that I call “Socrates”. He invented the Socratic method. I have the participants get into pairs. The idea of the exercise is for one person to have an issue, challenge, or problem. The other person is “Socrates” and must onlyask questions to help the other to solve their issue. The caveat is that Socrates cannot ask leading questions such as, “Have you tried ____ or “why don’t you ____?” Then they go for a 20-minute walk. For the first 10 minutes one person is Socrates and asks questions then they switch. When they come back into the room I am amazed with the results. Many times, a challenge that they have had for a while is solved. They just thought a different way than they had before because of the excellent questions that helped change their perspective. I am fortunate that I get to use this exercise often because the weather is usually great in Florida (unless it is too hot). Also, the participants would rather walk in the sunshine than be cooped up in a classroom.
It is an interesting concept to balance talking with listening. Most of us talk more than we listen or we do not really listen with intent. We seldom use questions to help the other person sharpen their train of thought or to bring up different perspectives. We often ask the question, “have you thought to do it my way?” or we give advice. In your next conversation I challenge you to wait for the question, so you can be sure that the other person actually wants to hear what you have to say.
Please let me know how this idea works for you. I am still learning and practicing.
#communications #questions #mindset #venting