October 22, 2015

Optimising for clarity

I’ve spent a lot more time over the past few months listening and talking to people than ever before. As a new manager, I’ve had to learn a few really important things first hand.

Answer direct questions directly

A yes or no question should be met with a yes or no answer. That said, rarely are complex questions truly binary, so if possible adjust the question until it is, and then answer. I really want to keep ambiguity down where possible. Speaking plainly has yielded better results for me than being too ambiguous or vague.

Replay what you heard the speaker say (active listening)

This is checking you’ve heard the thing right and that my internal translation table for you works. Meaning gets lost every time there is a format change, which for me means: brain -> words -> ears -> brain. If you’ve got a reasonable facsimile of a bidirectional lookup table for things you’re each saying, and everything matches up, then awesome: you can be somewhat sure what you’re hearing is what they’re saying.

Focus on the other party

When the person you’re sitting opposite is trying to understand, listen hard and focus on them without distractions. Pay attention to what they’re body language is telling you (even if you don’t know what you’re looking for particularly). I’ve found visualising what they’re speaking about while they speak helps what they’re saying enter my brain and stay there long enough to do something useful with it.

Shut up

Although you shouldn’t have to learn to be quiet and let the other person get some space, it’s something you need to practice. Let them finish or at least come to a natural break before interjecting. This should not be that difficult but it happens frequently with me.

None of these things should really need to be learned, but here we are. I’m sure there are plenty of other things to add to this list.

Creative Commons License rational human by Pieter Sartain is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.