We all have seemingly valid reasons to distrust certain, if not most, other individuals. No discussion is going to convince someone to all of a sudden start trusting another. There needs to be some way for us to begin this process. Trusting others, as in trusting oneself, must start with acceptance. Accepting others can only happen if we understand them. How do we deal with this diversity in order to accept them?
The key word in this process is communication. We really do not communicate well in our society as is evidenced by the number of divorces, lawsuits, and general disagreements in our lives and in business on any given day. Communication needs to be redefined. Too often we think we are communicating when we are talking to another individual. But talking is only one part of communication. Communication consist of talking, writing, reading, and listening. Listening is the aspect that seems the weakest in our society. We believe if there is an argument, all we have to do is explain our position often enough and loud enough and the other person will be convinced. Too often as we navigate through the 21st century, we forget that other people actually have different and valid opinions. This is the legacy of the age of conformity. In accepting diversity in our new information age, we must accept diversity in our opinion. Hopefully, we will not go to the other end of the spectrum and honor every opinion, whether it be justifiable, valid, harmful or not. But we do not need to understand others’ viewpoints.
Listening is not an easy task. We tend to feel very strongly about our positions. Learning to put our own ideas aside and listen objectively to someone else is difficult. But difficult or not, this simple concept must be implemented. There must be a vested interest on the part of both people to really want to understand the other and to allow both to win. The old concept of win/win is a powerful one. Understanding cannot happen; thus, communication cannot take place until both parties are committed to listening. If the only real interest in the interaction is to get the other person to see your side, then one person wins and the other loses.
The concept of win/lose as opposed to win/win is too often prevalent in business. We assume winning is the only way to function. Wars are probably society’s extreme example of this concept. We fight for what we believe in. We translate this into business and use war terminology such as “guerrilla tactics”, “killer instincts”, “the corporate battle field”, and so on. If we continue to promote war-related words, we will continue to see business as a “fight”. In such a mentality, there is little room, even in a minor disagreement of the day, for others to win. If someone else wins, then we perceive the situation as if we have lost; losing is viewed as unacceptable. A change from the mentality of win/lose to one in which we accept that if everyone can win is necessary in understanding and accepting others. This is related to abundance. If we believe there is enough for all, then “winning” becomes less significant.
Stephen Covey in First Things First explains a simple, effective three-step communication process. First, one seeks mutual benefits for all involved. Second, one seeks to understand the other person before trying to get them to understand you. This is the key to the process and perhaps the most difficult since we have so little training for it. In this process of seeking to understand, it becomes less important who is right and more important what is right. But we must value the other person in order to do this. Listening is the first step. Until we change our attitude about having to be right, there will be no real listening going on. Once we open to the other person’s viewpoint, we can attempt to explain our position. There is room for synergy to take place. Two people can create a third alternative representing a shared vision, not just the viewpoint of one participant.
This shared vision can be incorporated into business with a little dedication and practice. Too often arguments occur within an organization where the goals should be the same. This three-step approach can also be applied to relations with customers and other businesses where the perception of everyone winning is even more difficult.
A crucial element in this process is the attitude connected to it. If everyone understands before being understood, finding an alternative solution is easy. People often refuse to see the value in this process. Unless one is willing to understand, value, and accept others, nothing will work, A willingness to try is all that is needed.
How often in meetings is the viewpoint of the other really considered? Many of us do not listen, but begin formulating our rebuttal as soon as the other person starts talking. Too little time is spent comprehending what any one individual is trying to say. Meetings tend to be long and unproductive with participants giving up trying to express their opinion. Listening is necessary in establishing and atmosphere of trust.
These concepts are not new. In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote How To Win Friends & Influence People which discusses the same basic ideas. There are rarely new ideas, just repackaging of older ones. Carnegie’s book has been a must-read for successful business people for a long time. The message is even more appropriate now, we know what to do; we just aren’t doing it.