By JEREMY HEIGHTON
Executive Director, NSBIA
VALUES. THEY SURROUND US, anchor our philosophies, guide us in our marketing, and ground us in understand how we present ourselves as we do what we do.
Ego is part of the Values toolbox. it is also a double-headed coin. In some cases Ego dictates “its all about me.” In other cases, Ego empowers us to communicate our vision with passion and purpose.
In March of last year, I wrote the following article, which is still one of my favourites about how to overcome your Ego if it dominates your communication:
The 5 Deadly Sins of Ego Based Communication
Have you ever engaged in a conversation when suddenly the other person interrupts you and completes what you were going to say (or so they think), inserts their own story to illustrate your point for you, jumps into a conversation without knowing what was said earlier, or completely takes over the conversation to grandstand?
If you have, then you have engaged someone who is operating in EGO based communication. As a business leader focused on relationship building, I find it especially challenging when the person engaging in this type of behaviour derails my conversations, in favour of their own viewpoint. In fact, we have seen how incredibly disruptive EGO based communication can be when mixed with significant political power recently in the United States.
Do you want to be seen as the person who lacks the tact and social grace to effectively communicate, or would you prefer to be the one who emerges from the conversation with stronger relationships and positive intents? I prefer to be the builder…
There are five core behaviours of EGO based communication. If you see yourself doing these, then perhaps it’s time to replace the action in a positive way..
1) Interrupting when someone is in the middle of a thought.
I was in a meeting the other day, when one person kept talking over top of everyone else in the meeting. It both interrupted the flow and disrupted the train of thought of the person speaking. What made matters worse, was the comments offered did little to enhance the conversation. In many cases this type of behaviour derails the momentum and takes people off topic.
The Remedy: Stop talking and listen. There is an old adage “God gave you two ears and one mouth…..” so, when you feel that need to interrupt, stop, wait and ask yourself, “Will what I’m about to say add to the conversation?”
If not, don’t do it. Bite your tongue, or put it firmly in your cheek, just don’t talk. When I used to run workshops, I handed out red cards (literally red cards) and told participants that they could use the card to stop the conversation for their point to be heard. The caveat was that the card could only be used once during the session.
It was fascinating to see how people thought through whether their point was really that valuable and merited the use of the card. Once I broadly implemented the system in my workshops, there were higher meeting outputs, more respectful conversations and frequently, the cards were not needed. the lesson, stop, listen and consider what you want to say.
2) Interjecting stories into others comments or discussions.
There is no situation where this is acceptable, unless the others in the group or discussion are struggling to understand the concept being discussed. The best approach then is to ask if you can share a story to illustrate the point. The hard truth is that the more stories you tell, the less people listen, especially in a professional setting. When your team is stressed or under pressure, it’s often seen as a time waster.
The Remedy: Think about your stories, before you use them. If they add value and you genuinely think they will help the group to move through something; ask and then tell. If it’s questionable whether it has value, it probably won’t.
3) The 90-second rule.
If the other person you are speaking to hasn’t contributed anything meaningful (question, comment or engagement) to the conversation within ninety seconds they’re already gone from the conversation.
If you’re the one still talking, you are grandstanding. They’re thinking about how to change the oil in the car…
The Remedy: Always encourage strong conversation by including others opinions, asking great questions, and allowing time (pauses) to reflect. The more the other person feels connected to the discussion, the more you will both get from it. Ask then listen.
4) Disconnected comments
I had a conversation the other day with someone, who appeared engaged, and then they made a comment that was completely disconnected from what we were talking about.
I see this all the time in media interviews, the reporter has their list of questions and then regardless of the guest’s answer, they ask a new question.
The Remedy: Real, engaging conversation is like a dance. You move in and out of the conversation in a way that creates a magical interplay. Take time for a conversation to unfold, building upon each others comments. If you find you are always rushing to get to the point, then add time to your anticipated meeting times, to allow for relationship building.
If you are genuinely on a time crunch, and the other person is a story teller, schedule your meetings for just before lunch or the end of the day. You’ll both be more focused and it won’t seem rude when it’s time to head out.
5) Disregarding others or their opinions
Unless you are in an authoritative position over another, power plays and taking positions that only include your vantage point quickly grows tiring for others and inhibits cooperation. If you are always in conflict because you aren’t getting your way there is a good chance your collaborative communication skills could use some brushing up. Effective conversation is not about winning over others, its about creating the win for everyone.
The Remedy: Take the time to understand the bigger picture whether that includes 1 or 100 others. The art of effective communication is not about always conceding, nor is it about always getting your way. It is about finding balance that respect and honors others positions as well as your own. You may not always win in the short term, but you will gain greater respect in the long term which can lead to greater wins.
That’s not to say that some forms of Ego based communication don’t have a place. As a meeting chair you may have to use it to refocus conversation, as a facilitator you may use it to assist in illustrating a point.
However, for most of us, it doesn’t fit in great, fluid and positive communication. The next time you are engaged with someone who seems to be distant or disconnected, consider the five deadly sins of Ego Based Communication, and make sure you aren’t committing them.
Jeremy Heighton is the executive director of the North Shore Business Improvement Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.