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How To Be Understood In Half The Time

by Brady Wilson

I'm a boss giving instructions, or a coach or trainer trying to explain a procedure or a concept, but all I get for my trouble is a blank stare...What's going on and how can I create understanding with a minimum of fuss?

20 years ago, someone gave us a gift that shaped the destiny of our children.

It was a book. The book contained one simple principle that we've been using for the past 20 years.

It taught us that every child has an emotional tank. When their tank is full, children have a great capacity for being happy, understanding you and obeying you. When their tank is low they tend to be unhappy, find it difficult to understand and are inclined to disobey (see source below).

It took me many years to figure out that every adult has an emotional tank too. When their emotional needs are met they seem to understand much more quickly.

I first started to discover this when people would be teaching me certain procedures. When I felt respected and understood, my capacity to understand shot through the roof. When I felt put down and patronized it was almost as if a dark curtain was drawn over my eyes. I just couldn't get it!

It was really embarrassing—UNTIL I REALIZED IT WASN'T MY FAULT.

As I double-checked myself, I recognized that I was bringing an eager desire to learn, an open mind and a willingness to understand. I began to see that others were having difficulties understanding the same "teachers" I was struggling with.

4 Tank-Filling Principles That Produce Quick Understanding

Connection is the first step to filling someone's tank so you can be understood in half the time.

Connection is a hard commodity to analyze, but it's made up of a mixture of credibility, openness, empathy and genuine care for people. You know when you feel it and you know when you don't. Others sure know when you're connecting with them.

In my work as a professional trainer, I spend a lot of up front time getting inside the frame of reference of the people I'm going to be presenting to. Somehow, knowing and FEELING what they're going through and dealing with helps me create a quick spark of connection.

Framing is the next step. Having understood their frame of reference, you can frame your message in a way that appeals to their interests.

"I was sitting at my desk the other day, Gail, and I was thinking about you. I was remembering how busy you usually are, how many urgent last minute phone calls you get, how many responsibilities you have to juggle from day to day and all of a sudden I got an idea that I think would save you a lot of time. Would you like to hear about it?"

If I was Gail, I'd be pretty open to quickly understanding what this idea was all about. You framed your proposal in the context of my daily reality. That makes you a little bit credible. A little bit of trust starts to flow.

Word pictures and stories are the next step in filling someone's tank.

I recently did some work for an insurance company. The Senior VP of Strategy and OD had invited three of us to the table and was introducing us to each other.

"Marilyn is here because she is a coach who's had a proven history of coaching senior executives in our organization."

"Bill is a long-time friend who brings extensive expertise in the areas of strategic planning and dealing with executives."

"And Brady? Well I don't really know Brady but he's here because we connected for five minutes in my office one day, then he wrote this funky story about me that told me he really got it . Besides that, Carol recommended him and when Carol recommends someone you take notice."

The story I had written was about a woman-knight who chose to fight without armor. It told of her wisdom of getting fellow knights on board without creating needless resistance.

The story caught her attention because it captured some of the real-world struggle she was facing. I took time to put myself in her frame of reference and write the story, but I believe it filled her tank a bit. I think it created some understanding about my philosophy and values in a very short time-span.

Lots of times I believe the story is the only reason I get to come to the table.

Inquiring into their conclusions is the fourth step. My credo is, "People will tolerate your conclusions and act on their own." I wish I knew who to credit for that quote, because I use it all the time.

When you are seeking to be understood quickly, it is tempting to dump the whole load without stopping to see how it's coming off. One simple question can help you sidestep unnecessary resistance. "How does this sit with you so far?"

This tells them something important—you CARE what they think and you're willing to stop and let them catch up.

Bonus Principle

When you are in a situation where your listener has a very different viewpoint from yours there is a simple but highly effective principle that will help you reduce the resistance and increase the speed of understanding.

Overcome resistance by reflecting back in your own words the negative feelings they are experiencing. This is counter-intuitive but it works amazingly well.

I learned this lesson when I was training the call-center world. When an irate customer calls, the first tendency of the call-taker is to defend the company and put the responsibility for the problem back on the caller. This, of course only serves to escalate the customer's frustration and anger.

Master call-takers reflect back the essence of the emotion. "It sounds like this has been very frustrating for you."

Remember, when you feel resistance, do not try to bulldoze ahead. It will take you twice as long to achieve understanding.

Next time you need to get understanding across quickly to a listener, connect with them, frame your message to appeal to their interests, use word pictures and stories, inquire into their conclusions and if there is resistance, reflect back the essence of the feeling in your own words.

Doing this will help them Get It!™ in half the time.

Reference: "How to Really Love your Children" by Dr. Ross Campbell.

Copyright © Juice Inc. 2005

Brady Wilson is co-founder of Juice Inc., a strategic communications training company that helps leaders create a culture where it's easier to get results and it feels good to work.


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