Listening Beyond the Words

What’s Below the Surface?

The words we say don’t usually carry the full weight of what we mean. Think about a recent text or Slack message you’ve received that required more than one message back and forth to make clear. Would it have been easier to decipher if it was said to you face to face? Or even on a voice call? You’ll probably answer, “Yes.”

But that’s only scratching the surface on what can go wrong in our everyday communications. From distractions to rushing to choosing the wrong medium for the message, the opportunity for misunderstanding is everywhere. 

When we work hard to be present and in the moment, and thoughtful about how we communicate with each other, we set each other up for success — in the form of better understanding the meaning behind our words and in being able to take appropriate action.

The Below the Surface Challenge

When you listen to others this week, whether through hearing or through digital messaging, remind yourself to listen for what’s lying below the surface

  • Listen and read for ideas, not just facts. 
  • Understand that there is emotion behind every piece of communication, even when it’s text-based.
  • Listen for the real message behind the words. Use the speaker’s tone of voice and nonverbal communications to give clues to what’s going on in the speaker’s mind. 
  • Re-read and revise your digital messages to consider the needs of the receiver. Try to keep the gap of potential misunderstanding as small as possible.

Let’s Do More to Set Each Other Up for Success

When you try to see and hear what’s behind the words, you’re more likely to respond in an appropriate way — one that usually avoids unnecessary back and forth. 

And when you’re the sender of the communication, stop to think about what context you need to provide to help the person understand what you mean, and to take the next step with confidence.

Photo by Alexander Hafemann on Unsplash
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