How to Ensure People on Your Team are Heard

Have you ever witnessed an argument, where one person is saying X but the other person is hearing something completely different?  Where the first person makes repeated attempts to clarify, but the second person still hears something completely different? Have you ever wondered why the second person is not hearing the first person?

One reason is that the second person has an entrenched belief.  Once we believe something, we filter everything through it.  The more intense our emotions are, the more we hear what we want to hear, regardless of what the other person is saying.

When this happens in a boardroom, it can be quite costly and embarrassing for the one who is not hearing.  But if you are a witness to such an argument, here are a few things you can do that can help them to hear:

1. Get the parties' agreement to help resolve the conflict.

First, ask the parties who are arguing if you could jump in to help resolve the conflict. You want to work in collaboration with them, which requires their consent. Then,

2. Slow things down.

Shift to a calm tone.  It helps the ones who are arguing to calm down.  If there is anyone else in the room, ask them to leave.

3. Normalize what is happening.

Look for a way to minimize embarrassment for the one who is not listening.  You can say something like, “When things get heated, it can be really hard for us to hear one another.  It can happen to any of us.” Do not place blame on the non-listener; instead, meet him where he is at.

4. Ask the one who is not hearing, “What do you hear the other person saying?”

Ask the the first person to refrain from responding or interrupting.  Then turn to the one struggling to hear and ask them, “What do you hear the other person saying?”

When they respond, don’t judge or condemn them, regardless of what they may say.

Instead, ask them if you could share what you are hearing the other person say.  It’s helpful to get their buy-in, but then share what you heard and ask them if you are off.

Then, ask them again what they heard the person saying.  Hopefully, they hear it more clearly now.

But a quicker resolution is possible.

5. Ask both, “What is the one message you want the other to hear?”

Start with the one who was not hearing.  Ask them to state the one message they want the other person to hear.

Ask the first person, the one who was saying X, to repeat what they just heard.

Then ask the second person, the one who was struggling to hear, to repeat it back.

At this point, you can move to resolve the conflict by asking them to align with what the other wants them to hear. Where they had been arguing, they are now partners attacking the problem, and you are moving towards resolving the conflict. Instead of seeing each other as the 'enemy,' they are teammates combating the problem together.

In a future blog post, we will go through conflict resolution principles.

Chew On This:

  • How can you empower your team members to better hear each other?  What beliefs keep you from listening well?

Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.

*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients.  No one single client is being singled out.