I remember an experience not too long ago, when I concluded a phone call with Charles, another business colleague, and upon hanging up, my heart sank.
Upon our first connection over the phone about a year before, Charles had asked me if I was interested in learning more about his business and perhaps becoming a part of it. We had connected sporadically over the following months; and throughout most of the communications, I had led him to believe that I was ready to come on board.
Upon my own clarification, Charles said that I had sent “mixed signals.” I could empathize. Nothing is more frustrating when we feel as though our resources are being wasted by another—intentionally or not.
At this point, all I could do was apologize, take responsibility for any missed-communication on my part, and let him know that it was not intentional. After all, many sales professionals can recall having been strung along before by disingenuous prospects for free lunches and/or expert advice or information.
And while I was not offered nor accepted anything of that nature, I pondered it further. How many of us have been guilty of sugar coating the truth to the point of obscurity? I remember one friend confessing having done this on many occasions, simply because he did not want the other person to feel hurt or rejected…or perhaps it was he who simply wanted to feel liked, valued and important? After all, I have never seen a one-way bridge…have you?
Part of me was also embarrassed—after all I am supposed to be a communications professional. And while I will maintain that listening is the most important skill there is, we must be mindful to say what we mean, and mean what we say. Ironically, it takes me back to the first step of effective listening: put your personal agenda aside.
By “personal agenda” I refer to the motives that lie within most of our hearts. Sometimes they are pure; often they are not. Most of the time it’s a mix (it’s called being human). Being aware, however, helps us keep our motives in check. It makes sure we tell it like it is, and also that we are open to hearing it like it is as well. Personal honesty is just as important for effective listening.
Successful businesses and careers come out of relationships, the foundation of which is trust. This requires honesty, not just with others but first with ourselves. This can be quite liberating; indeed the truth does set us free.