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With contempt in your heart, your words come out contemptuously

One of our clients has engaged us to help them improve their effectiveness as a leadership team of six people. We are teaching them a specific methodology, called the mutual learning approach, to improve the way they communicate with each other.

Better communication leads to increased trust. Trust is necessary to effectively and productively navigate conflict and disagreement. Once you can say all the things that need to be said and your colleagues can actually listen to you and hear what you are saying, that leads to increased commitment and accountability ... to each other, to the team, and to the mission.

Our clients love that we give them The Ways, The Words, and The Tools, which simply means we help them operationalize the concepts we teach.

Recently, we were discussing with the team what to do when somebody in a meeting brings up something that seems off-topic. Instead of saying something like, "No, that's not what we're talking about today" or "Let's get back on track," we suggested being curious. We gave them a couple of sample questions to ask of the person. One of the team members objected. "Oh, I could never say that. It would be taken the wrong way."

There's a fair amount of "fix those people over there" in that statement. What is FTPOT? When you're coming from a place of FTPOT, you take the position that it's not me that's the problem, it's them. It's not how I say things, it's how they hear and interpret them. 

For sure, they may be interpreting it wrong. But you need to control the controllables. You need to make sure you are making every effort to say it in a way that will not be misinterpreted.

I asked the team member to read aloud the sample sentences from the scenario. He read from the scenario:

"So-and-so, I don't see how your point about outsourcing is related to the topic we're discussing of accomplishing this initiative. Am I missing something? Can you help me understand how you see them related?" (From Eight Behaviors for Smarter Teams by Roger Schwarz.)

Yes, indeed. The way he read it (and the way he was probably hearing it in his head) the sentences sounded condescending.

We urge our clients to lean into the values and assumptions of mutual learning, especially curiosity and compassion. Words are just words. How they come out of your mouth (or from the keyboard) makes the difference.

If you have contempt in your heart, the words will come out contemptuously. If you are annoyed, your words will betray your annoyance. If you are frustrated, your frustration will be obvious. 

If, on the other hand, you have compassion in your heart, your words will be kind. And if you are truly curious, you will be asking questions to truly gain a better understanding -- not to shut the person down or make them feel bad. 

Questions that do that are known as "non-genuine" questions. If you have asked a question that shuts people down/shuts people up, you have not asked a genuine question. A genuine question is curious and compassionate. 

Here's to cultivating and maintaining strong relationships with the people you work with!

Andrea J. Applegate is the founder and president of Applegate Talent Strategies, a woman-owned leadership and organizational effectiveness consulting practice located in Columbus, Ohio. Applegate Talent Strategies is dedicated to helping leaders cultivate, enhance, and maintain work relationships to improve employee productivity, belonging, engagement, and retention.
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