Recently I watched an interchange between a political candidate and an advocacy rights group. The media labeled it as a “tense exchange” and the day following aired interviews with members of the group declaring their disappointment in the whole experience.
Admittedly I am not a supporter of that candidate, nor do I pretend to have any understanding of the plight of the social injustices the group is fighting.
But I really thought they both wanted the same thing, and began the conversation on the same side of the issue.
So why did they end up turning in opposite directions?
I think it comes down to being ready to ask the question: okay, so what’s next?
But it’s pretty much impossible to be ready to move on to the solution if we can’t agree on where we are starting.
In my opinion, the candidate made the mistake of simply telling the others what they needed to do next. As well, in my opinion, the group made the mistake of not comprehending the valid if not difficult reality of the advice, which was actually good advice. Instead, they chose to tell the candidate that she didn’t understand.
See the common thread there?
We often find ourselves skidding off the road and into the ditch when we plunge down hard on the accelerator of Telling.
Applying the brakes of Asking helps keep us on the road and headed in the same direction, albeit a little slower than we had hoped.
Everybody take a breath, count to ten, and let’s start again by asking.
What do you see as the base problem in this situation?
In your mind, what would be the best solution?
What do you need from me to get there?
At first glance you may think that these are only one-sided questions, going from the candidate to the group.
Read them again and think about it.
These questions help us find common ground, create a directed focus to work toward, and make an offering of self rather than a demand of others.
It’s a safe bet that I will have no way to reach out in this situation to those national figures who started on the same side but ended as potential adversaries.
But I can reach out to you.
Pretty soon we find that, not only aren’t we on the road anymore, but we can’t even find the keys to the ignition.
Kind of hard to move forward that way, don’t you think?
I’m not interested in staying in neutral longer than necessary; I would imagine you aren’t either.
The days of neutrality over the critical issues of our day are gone.
Even the impartiality of not choosing is still choosing; it just removes any control we have over the consequences.
Whatever your issue, big or small, family or work, school or church, try starting by asking rather than telling.
You may need to repeat some things, you may need to ask for time to step away and think, you may even need to consider more about how you need to present things for them to actually hear your message rather than just how you want to quickly say it.
After all, a great communicator doesn’t rely on the listener bending to the stylings of the speaker; he/she takes the time to know the listener well enough to tailor the message to fit them just right.
Then, together you can get the car going by asking “okay, so what’s next?”
It may be slow at first, but at least you’ll be heading down the road in the same direction.