A dreamy way to open up communication

February 29th, 2012
kayak paddle lesson on flickr/bealetherese

“Any questions?” Those two simple words serve a basic communication purpose. We’re ticking off our mental checklist to see if the listener is on the same page. Did I ask for feedback? Yep. Does everyone understand what we’re doing? Sure. Okay, then, let’s move on.

The hitch? Not everyone is ready or willing to ask a question especially if they’re still digesting the details of a complex topic. Lingering uncertainty can cause a listener to stall. Recently I encountered a conversation  footnote that not only welcomed questions but prompted us to move past that gray area of hidden resistance:

“Any questions, concerns, hopes, dreams?”

Lest you think this approach is a bit sappy, consider the source: An expert guide with NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School. Christian is accustomed to leading people of all abilities to face their limits in the wilderness. He’s also responsible for keeping the expedition on schedule, regardless of the weather conditions and the relative skill levels of the people in his group.

I met Christian on a weeklong kayak trip in Baja. Our mission? Paddle 46 miles to circumnavigate an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Each morning Christian briefed us on wind conditions and our route for the day. About three hours of paddling was required to take us to our next designated camping spot. We were a capable group, but sometimes we had reservations. How do we manage “bio breaks” from the boats? Will the wind push us offshore? Will we have time for a hike this afternoon?

The questions seemed trivial, but Christian’s daily offer of “any questions, concerns, hopes, dreams?” made it easy to ask. It reminded me of the importance of removing mental barriers that interfere with effective communication. When the listener is distracted by competing interests, they’re not likely to be open to our messages.

In our case, Christian needed to know our concerns to ensure our safety. He also wanted to know our desires to make sure we had a good time. It was a vacation, after all.

The next time you want to know if someone has any questions or concerns, why not ask them about their hopes and dreams too?  What’s their vision of where they want to be at the end of a project? Or perhaps just at the end of the week? They might be surprised by the question, but it takes the edge off uncertainty. And they’ll appreciate that you cared enough to ask.

Posted February 29th, 2012

Author: Categories: Communication Strategy, Leadership Tags:
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