While researching my new book What? I discovered that when listening to others, we naturally assume we understand what’s meant and don’t question our assumption. Yet the filters our brain uses to hear what others mean to convey preclude accuracy, leading to faulty assumptions. Essentially, here’s what happens that makes accuracy so difficult (for more detail and research references read my digital book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?):
A simple example of this just happened today. I was introduced as ‘Sharon Drew’ to a friend’s friend followed by this dialogue:
V: Hi Sharon.
SDM: Actually, my first name is Sharon Drew.
V: Oh. I don’t know anyone who calls themselves by their first name AND last name.
SDM: Neither do I.
V: But you just told me that’s how you refer to yourself!
Because a double first name was foreign to her, she put it in an accustomed category, deleting how she heard the introduction, and then wrongly assumed a typical a first name/last name configuration. She exacerbated the problem by then assuming she was right and I was wrong when I corrected her.
ASSUMPTIONS RESTRICT AUTHENTIC COMMUNICATION
We all do this. Using conventional listening practice, it’s pretty difficult to hear what is meant without making assumptions. As a result, we end up restricting, harming, or diminishing authentic communication, and proceed to self-righteously huff and puff about what we believe is ‘right’, potentially getting the context, the outcome, the description, or the communication, wrong. Or we assume the speaker meant something they didn’t mean at all. In business it gets costly when we wrongly assume a task we were never asked to perform.
I recently got a reproaching note from an annoyed colleague when, among several faulty assumptions he made that were far, far from my intent (and in one case making an assumption about my behavior that in fact was a direct response to something he did!), I didn’t behave according to his beliefs: I had asked if he wanted to ‘preview’ my new book before it came out, and he felt my subsequent behaviors insufficient given my request that he ‘review’ the book. When I pointed out his faulty assumption he got quite bumptious until I sent him back to the original email. It cost us both a possible business collaboration.
Assumptions cost us greatly, harming relationships, business success, and health:
Using normal listening habits we can’t avoid making assumptions. But we can supersede our brains by taking the Observer/Coach role and listening for the metamessages – patterns, system, structure – of what is said rather than the story line or content (which is what our brains use to acquire the assumptions).
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Sharon Drew Morgen is the NYTimes Business Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity and 7 books how buyers buy. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a decision facilitation model used with sales to help buyers facilitate pre-sales buying decision issues. She is a sales visionary who coined the terms Helping Buyers Buy, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Patterns, Buy Path in 1985, and has been working with sales/marketing for 30 years to influence buying decisions.
More recently, Morgen is the author of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? in which she has coded how we can hear others without bias or misunderstanding, and why there is a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She is a trainer, consultant, speaker, and inventor, interested in integrity in all business communication. Her learning tools can be purchased: www.didihearyou.com. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.