Take Your Conversations Out of the Danger Zone – The Value of Dialogue Over Discussion: Part 2

In Part 1 of The Value of Dialogue Over Discussion I asked you to do some honest introspection before starting a conversation with another person, encouraging you to alter both your reason for engaging and your approach in order to come from a more selfless or other-focused perspective – a key difference of dialogue.

Now, let's look at these shifts a little more closely to see how and where we truly can benefit from taking the path of dialogue.

Stephen Covey's 5th Habit (of highly effective people) states: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Seeking to understand starts with being willing to engage in dialogue rather than to have a discussion. So rather than convince the other person of your position (which requires quite a bit of talking), you instead must be open to understanding their perspective, which inherently involves listening.

If you think a question needs to be asked, keep it short and ask it from a place of genuine curiosity, of wanting to learn more as opposed to asking questions as a way of leading the other person down the road you want to go.

How you phrase the question can help tremendously when it comes to getting into the dialogue mindset. Some of the best questions are:

Help me understand more about _________________.

Tell me more about ______________.

Remember that the blank space should consist of no more than one to two words. Examples include:

Help me understand more about your feelings.

Tell me more about that.

Do you see how limiting what goes in the blank to a simple word or two can assist you in staying other-focused and curious, rather than trying to get your own opinion in there?

After you ask your question, go straight back to listening keeping in mind that:

Listening is hard.

Listening takes practice.

Listening builds trust.

The fact that listening builds trust has been reinforced and validated for me over and over again during the programs I teach. When I ask participants what makes someone trustworthy, they ALWAYS respond with "being a good listener."

But how can you tell if you really are a good listener? Think about your most recent conversations and ask yourself:

  • Am I waiting for my turn to talk, thinking about what I'll say next?
  • Do I jump in with the solution to the other person's problem?
  • Am I thinking about my next meeting, rather than the one I'm in right now?

If you answered to yes to any or all of the above, I'm sorry to report that you are NOT a good listener and, therefore, you are not engaging in dialogue.

Again truly listening is hard and takes practice. Use the following checklist to improve your listening skills as you work to make listening more natural:

The Excellence Rising Checklist for being a Great Listener

  • Is the timing of this conversation right? (I am not distracted, pressed for time or emotional.)
  • Is the space conducive to good listening? (check for privacy, noise, distractions, technology.)
  • Have I settled my mind? (Try 5 minutes of meditating or quiet time prior to listening.)
  • Am I leaning in slightly? (There's no need to touch, but put your body in an "I'm interested" posture.)
  • Am I making good eye contact? (Make sure to blink and not stare.)
  • Have I tried listening for 2 minutes without asking questions? (As you do this, nod your head or smile, but do not interrupt.)
  • Am I being genuinely curious? (To stay in this space, don't try to solve the problem in your head while you're listening.)
  • Am I asking clarifying questions? (If you're questions are leading, remember that a question is not a question if you think you know the answer.)

I encourage you to start using this checklist immediately.

The next opportunity you have to engage in conversation with a co-worker, family member or stranger, get curious. Practice the listening skills above and keep your emotions and perspectives out of the conversation unless asked directly – which means don't give your opinion or feedback unless the other person asks, "What is your opinion or feedback?"

Of course, the question is: How do you know if you're on track?

Give the tension and trust level in your practice conversations a mini litmus test. You can do this by reading the body language of the person I'm listening to: Do they appear more relaxed? Are they also making eye contact and leaning in?

This gives you immediate feedback.

After the conversation, see if the other person thanks you for listening. If they do and if they say they feel better, than you know you've done a good job.

Also, ask the other person to check in with you in the next couple of days if they have an update or want to talk further. If you're indeed contacted you know for certain that you've built trust – and that's the real value of choosing dialogue over discussion. 

About the Author

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Jennifer Stanford is a sought-after Trust Coach and the CEO of Emergent Performance Solutions, as well as an author and speaker. Her entrepreneurial spirit, combined with years of practical experience gives her specialized insight into business and psychology.

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