I am six and keen to help unload the car from the weekly Saturday food shop. My dad picks up a glass jar of orange juice (cartons haven’t been invented yet). To ensure he has my full attention he crouches, looks me in the eye and tells me, firmly: “Don’t run.” You can guess the ending of this little saga. Yep. As soon as he took his hands off the jar and turned back to the car, I grabbed it and sprinted… and fell over. Glass, orange juice and boy sprawled everywhere. Dad spent most of the six hours at A&E reminding me he had told me not to run. The lesson? Apart from ‘don’t run with glass jars’, knowing that not all the words we use are equal.
We hear what we want to hear. We have to filter. There is too much ‘content’ to absorb it all at the same rate: speech, road signs, texts, emails, magazines, TV, social media and so on. As a six-year-old, running was what I did – in PE, out with my mates. Hearing “don’t run” was filtered to “go on lad, give it some – run”. Like a rabbit to the greyhound.
Knowing that all words are not created equally can be very useful in the workplace. For knowing what someone is truly trying to say, for influencing someone to get what you want, and understanding someone’s position in a negotiation.
A colleague says: “I’m not precious about that presentation.” The key word is ‘precious’. They are absolutely precious about the presentation. Collaborating with them to adjust the presentation must be done very carefully, and with great consideration of how they feel about it.
Negotiating, you hear, “about £5.80 per case”. The key word here is ‘about’. The person would accept a lower price than £5.80. Listen for the key words that give away our position: ‘about’, ‘around’, and ‘a little’ are most common.
Giving feedback in an appraisal the manager says: “It’s not that you can’t manage your time.” The line manager actually meant that the person can’t manage their time, but they surrounded it in other language to soften the blow. Unfortunately, it just makes the feedback ambiguous, when it needs to be transparent. Using a formula like SBI will help you to give feedback effectively. It’s well worth Googling ‘SBI model’ (Add MBM to that search if you’d like to read my interpretation).