Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Understanding is not accepting

When I was at the customers place, we got into a discussion with the customer and my colleague repeatedly interrupted the customer during the conversation. We were discussing an important point regarding the UAT exit criteria for the project. Since the customer was repeatedly interrupted, the discussion didn’t progress much. Neither did we get an opportunity to express our views, as the customer was not willing to listen. We ended up having the same position we started with, i.e. entirely opposing view points. This happened during one of my previous projects.

Post the discussion when I checked with the colleague, he said that the customers’ views were not acceptable to him and that is why he interrupted the conversation. From my colleague’s view point, what he did may have been right, but we did not make any headway in the discussion. When I pointed out this to him, he said that he didn’t accept what the customer was saying and that is why he did what he did.

Now this is a scenario which we face many times in our work life. We come across opposing views in our interactions with team members, customers and our bosses. How we handle these scenarios where the views are opposite to what we hold, will determine how we fare as project managers/leaders. The secret (it is no secret at all) is to remind ourselves that ‘understanding is not accepting’. To elaborate, just because we understand something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to agree to what is said. If this is still confusing, let us roll back a bit and go to our school days.

In our science classes, we were taught many theories regarding the planetary system and one of them is the geocentric theory. It basically says that the earth is the centre of the universe and all planets and sun travel around it. Now we all know it is wrong and we also know the facts. But if there is a question asked about this theory in exam, will we say that we won’t respond as we don’t accept the theory? We don’t do that. We understand the theory, but we don’t accept it. We just answer the question knowing very well that the idea is very wrong. All that we need to do is to bring the same thought process to our professional life.

Ok, conversations at work place are not the same as being taught science lessons at school. A person can always think that listening to what is being said may be misunderstood as accepting the point. If we send across the message that we are only trying to understand what is being told and may or may not accept the view, then our purpose is met. This can be done by using the sentence “I am trying to understand what you say though I may not agree with you”. Used judiciously, this will win us lot of trust and respect from our colleagues and customers.

Try this for sometime in conversations when we listen to opposing views, which may not be agreeable to us for whatever reasons and we will definitely see a sea change in our attitude and how we conduct ourselves in conversations.

I see quite a few advantages of this.
  • We won’t necessarily interrupt conversations where the view is not acceptable to us.
  • We become better listeners.
  • This helps us to win the trust and confidence of people whom we move with (because we listen better).
  • Because we listen better, there is a higher probability of making others agree to our view/idea.
  • And finally, for all we know (or don’t know), the opposing view that we don’t like may be the right one or the better one, under the circumstance. We may even end up changing our position and accepting the view/idea. But no problem, we accepted something after we understood. :-)
So go ahead and give it a try.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent piece of information Ramanan. Reminds me of "Active Listening Skills" course that I took in Infosys.
    I do have that. But how to converse effectively with the client. How to win their trust and how to win projects? Do write on this topic :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very valid JR.

    Useful tips and continue these gems.

    Regards
    Rags

    ReplyDelete

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