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Senior Correspondent

You're tired. It's been a long week, even though it's only Tuesday. You find yourself dealing with yet another difficult customer. They're tired. It's been a long week for them too. They find themselves dealing with a difficult service provider. Tensions rise.

This is a perfect scenario for the 86.5-percent rule to kick in. 86.5 percent of the time we attempt to communicate, the outcome will be a misunderstanding, unless we pay a great deal of attention and take special care in how we communicate. The problems created out of misunderstandings are difficult to trace, hard to measure, but highly expensive.

Let's face it: Today's workplace is not exactly distraction free. Our attention can easily be drawn in divergent directions if we are not continuously vigilant. And, don't get me started about multitasking. When it comes to dealing with people, whether they are our customers, our employees, our colleagues, or our kids, multitasking is bound to cause misunderstandings. Then, we have extra work to clean up the effects of misunderstandings, either ones we caused or misunderstandings someone else caused by careless communication.

So, we're back to you and your tension-filled conversation. No magic bullets here, but we can promise that if you just shush the "judge" in your head and become a neutral listener, the conversation can most certainly shift in mid-stream to something far more productive.

We come equipped with two ears and one mouth. And, we can be sure that was by design. Most of us have figured out how to use our mouth to get our points across.  But how good are we at using those two ears? Be honest.

We offer a few suggestions, realizing that all of them will not apply to all situations all the time:

  1. Let people know if you have time to listen to them or not. If not, schedule a time soon when you are able to give them your undivided attention.
  2. Give the individual 100 percent of your attention during the communication transaction. You will discover that business can be accomplished much more efficiently when you give someone your undivided attention. When you attempt to multitask, you are inviting the conversation to take longer than it needs to. Most of us will keep talking until we feel understood.
  3. Let people finish their own sentences. You cannot read their mind, no matter how brilliant you may be. And, when you rush to finish the conversation, it is distracting. They may get lost in their own logic. Not to mention, they feel disrespected.
  4. Listen to understand, before leaping to whether you agree or disagree.
  5. If you don't understand something someone says, stop them right then and there, and ask for clarification. Interrupting is not considered rude when you are attempting to assure an understanding.
  6. Recap or rephrase your understanding before moving on so that both you and the other individual know you share a common meaning. You can do this several times in the course of a conversation if need be. This helps them know that you are picking up what they are putting down, ensuring shared understandings along the way.
  7. When people feel truly understood, they relax and feel more positive about the situation, even if the outcome isn't in their favor.

We can tell you that these guidelines work with most humans, whether at work or in your personal life. Please note, they do not work well with cats.

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