Visit my Facebook page

I post on this blog about twice a month. I post on my facebook page several times a week with tips, appropriate quotes and ways to support your increased assertive behavior. Please visit my facebook page (and please "like" it, if you do)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Every Word Counts

”This is probably stupid, but....”
“I know I should have understood this, but....”
“Could I interrupt you.....”
“Well, I was just wondering if.......”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?.....”

For twenty-five years I have been teaching people to speak up for themselves.  In addition both in my life as a psychologist and in my life as a Master Beekeeper, I give talks and workshops very frequently throughout any given year.

Those five ways of starting a question occur over and over in my audiences and in my classes.

When you start the contact with the other person in a weak or uncertain way, you lose ground and lose power.  The above phrases either put down the person asking the question or give all the power to the person answering the question.

Putting yourself down as you ask the question

”This is probably stupid, but....”
“I know I should have understood this, but....”

Beginning with a self put-down tells the listener that he/she shouldn’t bother to hear what you have to say.  You have already labeled yourself negatively and thus set an image in the listener’s mind.

If you start with a self-blaming statement (“I know I should have understood this...”) you let the person you address off of the hook too easily.  If a teacher or a lecturer has not made something perfectly clear to you, then it is possible that the explanation or the speech was lacking enough specificity rather than that you “should have understood.”

Asking for permission to ask

“Could I interrupt you.....”
“Well, I was just wondering if.......”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?.....”

First, this is a waste of everyone’s time.  If you ask out loud if it’s OK for you to interrupt, you have already interrupted.

In addition these beginning phrases are just fillers that don’t add to the effectiveness of what you have to say.  The listener has to
  • Wait until you are through with the question about whether you can ask a question
  • Answer yes to the question about asking the question
  • Keep listening to find out what the real question is
Valuable time is lost and often the person whom you are addressing will feel frustrated, and will wonder, “Will he/she ever get to the point?”

Listening and answering questions well is an art.  If we want to get the best from the person we are questioning, the most effective way is to get right to the real question.

Second, when you are asking permission to ask, you are taking away from your power.  From the beginning you are putting the ball in the other person’s court.  You are saying, “I think you are so powerful that I even have to give you the power to tell me whether or not I can speak.”  You lose the respect of the listener by having not enough respect for yourself.

Importance of nonverbals

When you ask a question, remember to be aware of how you handle yourself nonverbally.  Your voice should be firm and your speech should be easy to hear.  Your voice tone should go down at the end of your sentences, symbolically anchoring your words.

Setting the tone for the relationship

When you ask a question in a public place, you are setting an image of yourself for everyone in the room.  If you ask a question in a one on one setting, you are creating an impression for the person answering that will color any future dealings you have with this person.

I once taught a class in the Evening at Emory community education program called: “Dating: An Adventure for Grown-ups.”  In this class the students learned that every single thing that happens on a first date is important.  Every word that is spoken tells you something about the speaker.  Every nonverbal act teaches you something about the other person’s way of being in the world.

In the movie When Harry Met Sally, we learned about Sally’s character from the way she ordered food in a restaurant.  She was very specific, “I want my apple pie heated with ice cream on the side, but if you can’t heat it, I don’t want the ice cream at all.”

Note:  She doesn’t say, “Would it be OK if my pie is heated?  And I was wondering if you would mind putting the ice cream on the side?”

Harry, the waiter, and the audience all learn from her manner in the restaurant that Sally is a strong person with particular ways of doing things.  We learn from her nonverbals (she looks the waiter in the eye and makes strong hand gestures as she speaks) that she will be “a person to be reckoned with,” as the old saying goes.

The same idea applies in a business setting.  When you interact with another person, as one does when one asks a question, you are entering into a relationship with the other person for that moment.  

If you begin the relationship by speaking in a deferent way, giving all the power to the other person, you indicate to him/her that you will put his/her wishes ahead of yours.  This sets you up to be dominated.

If you begin the relationship with mutual respect, the scene is set for each of you to be considered a valuable part of the interaction.

Practice so that the next time you ask a question, there can be no doubt that you feel as much respect for yourself as you do for the other person.

No comments: