The Great Misunderstanding
We know communication is at the heart of every human interaction in the workplace. Whether it's a conversation between colleagues, a meeting with superiors, or an email exchange with clients, effective communication is essential for a productive and positive work environment. However, despite the importance of communication, misunderstandings are all too common in the workplace. In fact, I would argue that most of our workplace challenges, from conflicts to missed deadlines and missed opportunities, are ultimately down to misunderstandings of each other. I am sure you will agree we can’t avoid misunderstandings, that’s part of being human, but we can learn how to resolve them. In this blog, we'll explore what’s behind the impact of misunderstandings and suggest how our state of mind, presence, deep listening, curiosity, and understanding separate realities can help resolve them.
A question for you-when you are communicating with someone face to face, online, on email how often are you truly present in the moment? I would imagine, like me you would answer not enough of the time. Yet we instinctively know that to effectively listen and communicate with others, it's essential to be fully present in the moment. The problem is we are conditioned, especially in the workplace to be busy minded, and it's all too easy to get caught up in our own thoughts, worries, and distractions, which can hinder our ability to truly listen and understand others. When we're not fully present, we may miss important cues, fail to ask clarifying questions, and make assumptions that can lead to misunderstandings. A state of presence is available to us at any moment. It only requires for us to be onto when we are caught up in our busy thinking. When we wake up to our busy state of mind we come into the present moment.
Deep listening is the ability to listen to someone beyond what they are saying, or doing and more importantly beyond what we as the listener are thinking. It’s a state of listening without assumptions, judgement, or interruption. When we are present, fully open, have a clear mind and only paying attention to the person with us, we can start to see the world through their eyes. When we listen this deeply, we can gain a real insight into what the other person is trying to communicate, beyond the words. I have found that this deep listening can shift my perspective of a situation dramatically.
The other side of the same coin as listening is the curiosity to deeply understand. Instead of assuming we know what someone means straight away, we can ask explorative questions to gain a better understanding of how they see their reality. By approaching conversations with curiosity, we can foster a sense of openness and collaboration. Curiosity is about the questioner being open to the unknown and possibilities, this is the space that can give rise to fresh thinking and new perspectives for all parties.
Suspending our thinking
It may seem odd to be asked to suspend your thinking when as humans we rely on this so much. However, we need to be aware that most of our thinking is a product of our conditioning and tends to be habitual and repetitive. For example, we make assumptions or jump to conclusions about what someone means, based on our own biases and experiences. Suspending thinking means setting aside these biases and assumptions and approaching conversations with a fresh and open mind. By doing so, we are open to see something new and fresh beyond our habitual view of the world.
Understanding separate realities
As humans each of us has our own unique understanding of the world, what we call separate realities. This is because our individual understanding of our reality comes from our thoughts. We see and interpret the world through thought. Thoughts are made up of our experiences, beliefs, values and conditioned thinking and so logically each human has a unique experience of their reality. This means that even when two people are discussing the same topic, they will be having different interpretations or understandings of it. A good example to illustrate this is to imagine three people watching a natural history TV programme, each person watching that same programme will be having a different experience of it based on their thinking about it. If we debriefed their experience, one might say, it made them sad to see our natural history being lost, another might have been intrigued by the animal behaviour, another focused on the beauty of the filming. They are watching the same programme but having a separate reality and different experience of it. No one is right or wrong, just different based on their version of reality. When we fail to see separate realities at work, misunderstandings arise, judgements occur, leading to confusion, frustration and conflict. When people don’t understand separate realities, they think that everyone sees the same thing. They frequently ascribe motives to another person’s behaviour. They take things personally and feel criticized, angry, and hurt by the actions of others. A lack of understanding of separate realities can cause relationships to spiral downward, which generates more misunderstanding, anger, and resentment. It helps to know that everyone lives in their own thought-created reality. By acknowledging and respecting the fact that we all have our own unique perspective on the world that makes sense to us, we can approach conversations with greater empathy and understanding.
The impact of misunderstandings in the workplace is significant. They can lead to decreased productivity, increased stress levels, and strained relationships that impede results. They can also lead to conflicts that can be difficult to resolve. But we can be and do better. Through reflecting on how we are showing up: our state of mind, presence, deep listening, curiosity, and factoring in separate realities, we can better resolve misunderstandings, build stronger relationships, and create a more positive and productive workplace culture.