The Value Of Diverse Communication

Joe Love

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When you meet someone for the first time, you probably search for some common denominators as a link during the course of the conversation. Why? One reason is to find an issue or topic that will make the first conversation a little less uncomfortable, as the first conversation can be. Another reason is to find a common bond that can serve as the basis for friendship. The more similarities you have with another person the more likely you’ll get along and develop a lasting relationship.

But what if, during the course of a first meeting, you find very little in common with your new acquaintance? Or even worse, the other party has opinions that are diametrically opposed to your political, cultural, and social values? Chances are, you won’t become the best of friends. But hopefully, you won’t become enemies, either. Instead, you might want to try to develop a healthy respect for the other person’s opinions and lifestyle. Being open-minded and listening to someone’s point of view are skills that will serve you well throughout your lifetime as you deal with colleagues, friends, and family members.

Fortunately, cultivating respect for others is a skill you can learn through practice, and it comes also with maturity. For example, a more mature person would say, “That’s an interesting point of view, " while a less mature, less educated person would say, “What a jerk. " Which person would you prefer to talk to? It’s important not to make a judgment about someone immediately.

It is important to always make an effort to get to know people regardless of how different they are from you. You must create rapport and make an attempt to understand the other person’s values, or you will always have trouble developing relationships.

The best approach when communicating is to put yourself in the other person’s situation to see his or her perspective. Respecting other people’s perspectives on life is crucial to cultivating working relationships. And a relationship that doesn’t work is counterproductive, especially if the relationship is with someone with whom you have to work closely.

How do you put yourself in the other person’s situation? One of the best ways is to exchange roles with the other person by restating the other person’s position. For example, if you say to a friend that you’re having some kind of a problem, more than likely he or she will say, “This is what I would do if I were you. " It’s like giving advice, and it can be a turnoff. You don’t really get anywhere because you’re busy defending your position; you perceive your idea or position is being attacked. And when you’re defensive, you’re not listening.

When you get into a position in which you have a difference of opinion or conflict of ideas, listen to the other person until you understand the idea. Once you understand, restate the other person’s idea or comments until you’ve got them right. Then mull over them as a viable alternative. They may not be valid. But you have an obligation to try to understand what the other person is saying.

The most important and yet overlooked of all communication skills is the art of listening. Most people are not good at what is called “active listening. " Active listening is when you set aside your own thoughts and pay exclusive attention to what the other person is saying. Most of the us have our own agendas, and when we talk to someone, we are concentrating not on what he or she is saying, but on what our next response will be. Therefore we miss a big chunk of what the other person is trying to communicate.

Although most people don’t receive any formal training in listening and related communication techniques, there are plenty of sources from which to learn these skills. More and more experts are out on the speaking circuit teaching communication skills. In addition there are many books, magazines, and audio programs available to enhance your communication skills.

Verbal communication and listening are not the only elements your should pay attention to in communication. Body language provides an abundance of clues as to how the other party really feels. For example, a person might be saying that he or she agrees with you, but his or her body language my be telling you that he or she is uncomfortable with your idea and doesn’t want to be part of it.

Here are six things you can do to improve your active listening:

1. Seek first to understand, and second to be understood.

2. Listen to, not against. Evaluate; don’t value judge

3. Be alert for what will not be said. Read facial expressions and body language.

4. Grasp feelings with content.

5. Paraphrase what the other person has said back to them.

6. When you respond, match the other person’s tempo and tone.

When you are responding to someone, be aware that some words and phrases are turnoffs.

For example, the technical language of your profession will not be understood by those in other industries. You will alienate listeners, who will find you inconsiderate for using it. Slang and profanity are certain to turn off some people, especially if you use them during a first meeting. Sexist language can be a big turnoff. For example, using “girl" to refer to a colleague will not endear the female gender. They’ll stop in their tracks, form an unflattering opinion of you, and ignore your point.

Most importantly in communication, don’t forget laughter. Laughter is good at relieving tension. If we can’t laugh occasionally, especially at ourselves, we are in trouble. Laughter clears the air and lets you get on with the issue at hand.

Exposing yourself to different perceptions of life can be as simple as reading the editorial pages of our newspaper, where you can see a variety of opinions from intelligent people, that reflect ideas diverse from your own.

We are living in the Information Age where companies must have a constant flow of new ideas in order to grow and prosper. Exposing employees to different perceptions of life may take a little effort. But it is one of the best ways to promote a healthy respect for different opinions in your office and generate new ideas.

Here are some ways you can promote differing perceptions in your company:

* Encourage employees to disagree and question the status quo. Reward them when they do.

* Hire people who don’t think the way you do. But be sure to hire people who respect authority.

* Have someone in your group or staff play devil’s advocate. Hold a meeting in which the participants feel free to identify the problems or pitfalls of a particular plan or idea before it is eventually implemented.

* If you suspect that an employee is afraid to disagree with your idea or plan, coax their opinion out of them.

* Don’t react negatively to bad news. Instead, reward an employee for being a bad-news messenger.

* Place employees in competition with each other, but don’t allow them to sabotage each other.

Diversity is a plus. Differing points of view provide fresh insight, new solutions, and enlightened perspectives. At a time when so much change is exploding in the world, people who are able to respect different points of view will be the ones who reap the rewards and ride the crest of success.

Copyright©2005 by Joe Love and JLM & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

Joe Love draws on his 25 years of experience helping both individuals and companies build their businesses, increase profits, and achieve total success. He is the founder and CEO of JLM & Associates, a consulting and training organization, specializing in personal and business development. Through his seminars and lectures, Joe Love addresses thousands of men and women each year, including the executives and staffs of many of America’s largest corporations, on the subjects of leadership, self-esteem, goals, achievement, and success psychology.

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