“Most communication resembles a Ping-Pong game in which people are merely preparing to slam their next point across; but pausing to understand differing points of view and associated feelings can turn apparent opponents into true members of the same team.”
Years ago, someone asked me if I wanted to teach communication skills. “No,” I answered. “I want to work in leadership and team building.”
Flash forward decades, and a bit more maturity, and I can laugh at that answer and at myself. Because, perhaps no surprise, what we’ve seen countless times over the years is that, at the heart of effective leadership and strong teams, is powerful and effective communication. (And at the heart of dysfunctional leadership and broken teams is, more often than not, dysfunctional and broken communication.)
It’s all about communication.
And, as Durfee notes, most communication is more like a Ping Pong game, where we’re aiming to win our point against our opponent rather than listening to our colleague (partner, customer, friend, family member, etc.) and aiming to come to a joint understanding and a win-win solution.
Recently, I’ve had the challenge and privilege of facilitating tough conversations for clients. Some of them have been one-on-one, boss-to-direct report or peer-to-peer conversations. Some of them have been conversations with an entire team (or leadership team). All of them have been challenging, emotional, and in the end, rewarding. All of these conversations have required my clients to be a bit more vulnerable and self-reflective, a bit more willing to hear a differing point of view, and a bit more able to handle their own and others’ emotional reactions.
All of them have required clients to shift from seeing themselves as opponents to seeing themselves as members of the same team.
Whenever we teach Difficult Conversations or Effective Conflict, we encourage clients to find a way to see themselves and their “opponent” as sitting on the same side of a common problem, trying to solve the problem together (rather than sitting on opposite sides of a problem trying to convince the other person of their wrong perspective). This also helps shift underlying mindsets from a win-lose attitude to a win-win attitude. From an us-versus-them position to an us-and-them position.
All of which shifts opposing sides from acting like adversaries at a Ping Pong table to acting like true members of the same team. And which yields more powerful and more effective results, with a potentially more enjoyable journey along the way.
How have you shifted from seeing others as opponents to seeing them as members of your team? And how has it helped you?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.
If you want to play less Ping Pong, contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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