A major enemy of effective interpersonal communication is the failure to understand the “perceived reality” of the other party in any conversation. We tend to assume the “reality” we are experiencing is the same “reality” as the other person without even questioning that assumption. For example, we could perceive that our buyers are just as excited to talk to us as we are to talk to them, when in fact, they could be in a defensive state of mind.Here are a few causes of “reality disconnect” and some suggestions on how to avoid them.
- Poor Listening. When we can understand a conversation at a rate of speech in excess of 600 words per minute, it sets up a bit of a dilemma when most people talk at a rate of about 150 to 175 words per minute. It makes active listening much more complex, and we tend to jump to conclusions about what the other party is saying due to our impatience with the pace of listening. Stay focused on the conversation and do not allow your mind to wander.
- Familiarity. One colossal cause of “reality disconnect” is familiarity. The better you know the other party in a conversation the greater the likelihood you will assume you know EXACTLY what they are talking about. Have you ever found yourself finishing the sentences of your significant other? Sometimes you may correctly think you know what they are saying, but you may be completely wrong about what they MEAN. Dictionaries define words but the people using them give them meaning. The only way to make sure your familiarity is not causing you to miss their unique meaning is to ask!
- Your Personal Communication Filters. Everyone hears and experiences what happens to them through their own set of filters. We begin shaping those filters when we are very young based upon fears, biases, needs, values, past experiences, and numerous other factors. If you don’t believe me listen to two children recount the situation that led to a disagreement and you will be amazed that you are even listening to a description of the same event! We tend to experience our conversations and what is being said through our own set of “operating reality filters” and often completely miss the other party’s point in a conversation as a direct result. The best way to avoid this problem is to simply remember that it exists, and then make sure to ask a question or two to clarify what is being said from the “operating reality” of the other party.
In the movie Casino, the Robert De Niro character Ace Rothstein had a great line, “Listen to me very carefully. There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way, or the way that I do it. Do you understand?” In any interpersonal communication, it is always imperative to understand the third way – or the way they (our customers) do it. That is where their meaning lies, and that is the perception of reality you need to understand to have more productive communications.