A simple tool for improving communication in your personal and professional relationships.
Poor communication is the bane of our relationships, and learning to effectively sort and convey our thoughts, and charitably understand those of others is a craft that can take years to master. Communication is hard enough with the people we love and care about, but quickly becomes another beast in professional settings where we often have no say over whom we work with. Today I’d like to share a simple exercise I devised to help with communication. We’ve been trying it out at EggStage for the past two weeks with promising results.
Twice a week, my cofounder Adam and I hold listening sessions where one of us gets fifteen minutes to talk while the other listens and takes notes. After the speaker finishes, the listener isn’t allowed to respond to anything that was said until the following day. That’s it!
The beauty of this setup is that it strongly discourages defensiveness. As cofounders, we’re often sparring over the best course of action for our company — whether and when we should implement certain features, or which marketing approaches we should take — and it’s so easy to get caught up in an endless vortex of pettiness, ego, and history when trying to justify our opinions amidst criticism, until both parties feel exhausted and misunderstood.
There’s almost always a gleam of truth to both sides of the discussion. In fact I’ll go further and say that most great thoughts are the result of a tension between disparate forms, whether internally within the mind or between individuals. The medium of back and forth discourse regularly fails to nurture these truths, and that’s where this system shines. It allows the speaker to express without compromise, and forces the listener to engage over a larger period of time effectively removing the fleeting defensive hump and allowing them to get to the heart of the matter. It also allows me to verbalize and explore feelings and intuitions, in an attempt to fill up my fifteen minutes, that would have otherwise been held in for lack of being developed and eventually forgotten. Fifteen minutes, twice a week, is also a realistic time commitment and leaves plenty of time for follow up, more direct communication, and of course all our other work!
We’ve realized that there’s a serious communication breakdown on a national level in the aftermath of the 2016 US election. And while this may be an inevitable result of the limits of time, space, the human mind, and an unintended consequence of optimizing for user retention at the cost of veracity and a free flow of ideas, I’m optimistic that we can all make a positive difference by cultivating our discourse with the people closest to us and starting constructive conversations across the proverbial pond.
Decisions must be made at the end of the day in any relationship. I hope taking thirty minutes a week to listen helps make that process faster, smoother, and dare I say more enjoyable for all of you. Let me know how it works out!
If you enjoyed this piece then check out my website: www.eugenemjoseph.com for more reflections, and music.