When I was young only my Italian friend’s families used olive oil. In upstate New York virtually all of my friends were from families of Italian descent and so I got to taste olive oil and eat it a lot on bread and pizza. In my Welsh, German, Slavic/Russian household with dairy farming roots, we used butter for almost everything. When butter wasn’t appropriate, we used mayonnaise; homemade mayonnaise from real eggs. Now there are lots of websites and books that teach you to “eat this not that.” Instead of tuna fish salad, you eat turkey thereby avoiding mayonnaise. Instead of margarine or butter, you use olive oil. “Eat this not that” promises that you will lose weight if you substitute one food for another. For example, Cocoa Puffs are ok but Cocoa Pebbles are not. Substituting one food for a similar food is easier than dieting because you are just trading one similar thing for another, but the substitute has far fewer calories. Bad listening habits, like bad eating habits, are more easily corrected with substitutions also: Eat this not that, say this not that.
Like eating, talking and listening are basic, rudimentary life skills and essential elements of the work place. They lead (or not) to communication which is the basis of getting things done together. Communication is one of the building blocks of progress of any team and the extent to which team members communicate efficiently and effectively is determinative of team success. There are many responsive phrases that are “show stoppers” and impose impediments in the progress of communication. Mostly, “show stopping” phrases introduce ego and emotion into communication. Avoiding these terms and substituting them with others is a simple way to accelerate progress in communicating and accomplishing together.
As we are listening to someone, we all, unknowingly and unintentionally, introduce phrases that aren’t constructive, but make us feel better. And these phrases are destructive. Here are some examples of destructive responses we use when we are listening and some substitute phrases (say this not that) to progress rather than halt a conversation and make communication more efficient and effective. Like improving your eating, with “eat this not that” you can improve your listening with “say this not that.”
1. “Relax” or “Calm Down.” When conversations get heated and we are listening to someone rant or speak heatedly, we may be tempted to say “relax” or “calm down.” This never works and tends to amplify the emotions of the situation. Because what the speaker hears is that you are criticizing them for being overly emotional. So instead say nothing and let them run their course. If you have or want to say anything, say, “I understand.”
2. “You Don’t Get it.” This is more common in tech circles. When I was in the Bay Area in the 90’s there were two kinds of people, if you listened to the nomenclature of the day. “They don’t get it.” Meant they didn’t understand, for example, that revenue didn’t matter. Instead, say, “Hey, I did a bad job explaining my point, let me try again.” Telling someone they don’t get it is immediately combative.
3. “That’s what I said.” So What. This is just your ego talking. Why not just say,“I agree.” Or you could say, “great idea.” If you said it and now they say it, what difference does it make to team progress whose idea it was? It is just an ego battle over credit which adds nothing to the communication except tension.
4. “You’re not listening.” Anything that is explicitly or implicitly critical will get in the way of communication progress. If you don’t feel they are “getting” your point, how about, “Let me put this a different way.”
5. “Actually.” This is a personal pet peeve. When you are listening to someone and then say, “actually,” you are correcting them in a manner of superiority. It is an insult with a huge dose of ego on top. How about trying, “I was thinking” or “I was wondering.”
6. “I know” or “I thought of that.” If you know, good. But keep it to yourself if you want to make progress in a communication. “I know” is the opposite of “actually.” “I know” is defensive in nature. To make progress in a conversation say, “what should we do about that” instead of “I know.”
7. “Of course.” This phrase tells a speaker they are saying the obvious and makes them feel stupid. Say, “I agree” instead. “I agree” reinforces and progresses the conversation. “Of course” introduces ego and “oneupmanship.”
Say this not that phrases are designed to reduce ego and tension in conversation and communication. As a listener, you will help progress conversations and communications by avoiding phrases and words that cause shields to go up and people to get angry or defensive. Team progress and ultimately your progress in an organization will be based in large part on how well you listen. How you respond when you are listening and learning to use phrases that make team communication more efficient and effective are critical to your advancement. Say this not that.
If you are following along in my listening series, you should have already read, The Only Resolution You Need for 2015, To Listen Well is To Be Like Water, Love Song Lyrics and Listening Skills, Frosty, The Taz and Listening to Introverts, How to Listen to Your Angry Boss, I am Sorry to Interrupt You, But and What Did You Just Say. All posts are under my profile on LinkedIn. This essay is the eighth in a planned series of 20 essays on listening.