Organizational

Who's Your Explanation For?

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Explanations that are clear to the speaker are often unclear to the listener.
  • Differing sets of assumptions and knowledge can create gaps in how information is communicated.
  • By focusing on how others think and understanding the foundations on which certain positions are built, it's possible to make more progress faster.

At some point we have all thought this during the process of explaining something that we think is crystal clear. We can’t believe that something so clear to us could be considered so vague and foggy to someone else.

After a couple tries at connecting we often give up. Each person goes away with the same thoughts and approaches that they came in with. If growth in understanding and building personal connections is a win, then the situation is a lose-lose for everyone. But it doesn’t have to be.

The trick is to really think about who your explanation is for.

We’ve all heard that we need to be more empathetic. But I think a lot of this gets converted more into active listening than it does into real empathy (ie: I'm really listening to you. See, I put my iPhone down...). Real empathy is closer to meditation. The difference is that instead of clearing your mind, you try to fill your mind with that other person to understand and connect with their feelings and rationale.

By focusing on how others think and understanding the foundations on which certain positions are built, it's possible to make more progress faster. In time-starved organizations (which is basically all organizations) , this can be a real boon.

The caveat is that the progress you thought about when you entered the conversation might not be the progress you actually think is best when all the talking is done.

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