connecting the dots requires listening

The best most useful feedback follows a simple formula. Something like:

  1. When you [action or behaviour]
  2. It has [effect on me or others]
  3. Next time please [request]

This is easy to deal with and easy to connect the dots because they are laid out for you. It’s easy to digest. It’s clear in this feedback formula what the behaviour, the effect and the change request. It’s hard not to connect those dots; it’s hard not to understand what’s being asked of you.

You can’t always rely on your conversation partner to lay it out for you. Give this “formulaic feedback” structure the other person might leave out part 3. Part 3 is the request that helps you connect the dots of: your behaviour -> the impact -> the resolution.

I wonder; without the request, would I have understood the behaviour and impact in a way that allowed me to fix my behaviour?

Not every conversation is about feedback and requests. Another type of conversation that I regularly have is “getting in-sync”. To me, “in-sync” means having a shared understanding of what is true, and what to do about it. Connecting the dots when getting in-sync is much harder. Your conversation partner often wont lay out the conclusion that lets you see – and connect – the dots.

I wrote – in a previous end-of-year performance review – what I thought I should do next in my job. Two weeks later I chatted with my boss. We weren’t consciously “getting in-sync”, or at least I didn’t know we were. In the meeting my boss explained his ideas about how to succeed, and how to shape my job. I listened carefully to what he had to say. By listening I understood well that his ideas where different from mine. Only by really hearing his perspective could I connect the dots -> our definitions of good were different!

What’s going on here?

  1. Have an open mind and focus on understanding the other person. Focus first on understanding them, before explaining yourself.
  2. Use what you learn, and test it against what you already think. Only then can you see the differences. Only then can you connect the dots.

Without step 1, you won’t know their perspective and you don’t be able to do the comparison in step 2.

Only through listening and understanding their perspective can you connect the dots and learn something. You can’t expect the other person to lay it all our for you – in every conversation – like they would if they used the “formulaic feedback” structure.