How to deal with an unexpected response

jackiecameronOne of my friends has a thoughtful face. When she is thinking she frowns. To some it looks like she is grumpy or unhappy.

Andy Murray the tennis player is accused of being a bit of grump by some. When in his acceptance speech after being voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2013 he said “”No matter how excited I try to sound, my voice always sounds boring – that’s just my voice. I’m sorry. I’m very excited right now. Thank you very much everyone.”

From the other perspective I watched a young woman who had been given some negative feedback accept it cheerfully but as she left the glass walled meeting room the slump in her shoulders betrayed how much it had affected her. The folk in the room were happy though, with comments about how it had gone better than they expected.

Taking things at face value ( no pun intended) there is a chance of misunderstandings arising which is why it is important to check out what you think you have just seen or experienced.

One of my clients told me that they wanted to develop their listening skills as they felt this would help get them to the root of a problem they had with their boss. Apparently they had had feedback that they had not done what had been asked of them. My client had taken this as that they had not listened to the instruction – and not only that but had decided that they were not good at taking instructions generally. I asked what the boss had actually said and after some time it was clear that the client didn’t really know what they had been told. We agreed that before they started to work on improving skills they should ask their boss what they thought they should develop. It turned out that the boss gave the feedback with the intention that my client should organise their workload better. The thing that had not been done should have been a priority. How it was done was fine.

There was no doubt that improving their listening skills would be beneficial but what might have been even better would be to couple that with learning how to ask questions effectively. Being able to ask questions is a key skill but one that many people undervalue or overlook.

So for my grumpy faced friend ” that’s not the reaction I was expecting. How are you feeling about what I just said” – could prompt ” give me a moment to think…it will look like I am frowning …”

For people like Andy Murray whose voices don’t have the vocal variety that we generally look for to give us tonal clues ” I am not sure what I am sensing about your response. Can we explore that a bit further” will potentially clarify a lot.

And in the final case above when you deliver bad news and someone responds in an upbeat way it is reasonable to assume that they are masking how they feel until they can find somewhere to go quietly to lick their wounds. The time to ask the question is after they have had time to do just that. And the question of course should not be ” are you alright? ” but something like ” I was surprised by how well you took the news. I wonder what else you might need from me now that you have time to think about it?”

So how are you when it comes to asking questions. Have you ever had a surprising outcome by doing so? Or if you are struggling with something or someone right now that could become clearer if you did?

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