Several years ago, I saw a documentary about an experiment that demonstrates how something tiny could create an entirely different outcome in people’s perceptions.
This took place in a store. When customers paid for their items, the cashier was asked to faintly touch the customer's hand as they exchanged the receipt or payment. They would do this to 50% of the shoppers; the other 50% would not receive any contact.
As the customers walked out of the store, someone would ask their opinion about the cashier and quality of the service received. And here is the interesting part, when the teller touched the customers' hands, the shoppers gave positive feedback. When they did not, the opinion was neutral or negative.
Small physical touches can have a significant influence. Now, consider how much a little adjustment of your tone of voice, facial expression, a word used in the right place (or not); can have an entirely different impact on the person you are addressing.
These small touches can create an entirely different alternative.
Here is an exercise I've done in my programs that will demonstrate it even better.
I asked two participants to face each other.
I then tell one person to think of two distinct thoughts while facing the other one:
1. First thought: I believe you are a good person, intelligent, and fully capable.
2. Second thought: I think you are an idiot, cannot accomplish anything right, and incompetent.
I then ask them to pick either sentence and repeat it in their mind while looking at the other person; after fifteen seconds, I'll signal to switch to the second thought.
When asked, participants in the room knew ninety percent of the time what thought they were thinking first or second. They could sense the shift energetically or perceive it from tiny changes in their facial expressions.
Here again, another reason to be aware of your thoughts and perceptions as it will affect the way they perceive you and, consequently, your conversations and relationships.
So, what do we need to focus on?
One critical step is to practice non-judgmental curiosity
Were you ever in a conversation where someone had pre-conceived ideas of you without knowing the entire story? How did that affect you? Now, is it possible you have done it to others as well?
There are always two sides to a conversation, and neither is necessarily right or wrong. Shirzad Chamine, in his book Positive Intelligence, suggests that you approach a challenging conversation with the mindset that "They are at least 10% right.” Starting from that and using a “Yes And” approach will help you listen to them and add your views to augment their perspective.
When you do this, you make them feel like you are open to suggestions and want to collaborate to find the best outcome. By listening to their ideas, no matter their values, you create a non-judgmental space that will make them feel comfortable talking to you again in the future.
Acknowledging their side of the story with a simple "It's understandable." "I hear you" or "I see what you mean" for their 10% will give them a sense of comfort that their words and feelings are accepted, regardless of whether they are right or wrong. That is how you make them feel seen and that they matter to you as a person. Later, they will be more open to listening to you as well.
Talk with others rather than to others.
You must engage with the person – but make sure it's a conversation, not a lecture. Research from MIT showed that increasing numbers of "turns" in back-and-forth conversations were critical to language development in children, even affecting brain physiology.
So how to do that? Well, again, incorporate the other person's perspective by asking open-ended questions, acknowledging what you hear, and making it clear that what you're saying is also relevant to them.
Finally, to make this work, you need to be an excellent listener.
That means not letting your mind wandering or thinking about the response and advice you want to communicate. If people sense that you are not listening, they will lose interest. I have shared this so often in various programs, and I am continuously baffled by how lightly they take this point. When you master listening skills, you resolve half the equation.
Using this process will help you build collaboration. Even if you don’t get everything exactly as you wanted, you can start building a relationship that can lead to better future outcomes. Consider these as small steps to better conversations.
Overall, what is essential is how aware you are of your thoughts, perceptions, and preconceptions. Be more intentional and inspirational by paying attention to how you show up and communicate, and ask for feedback from people you trust.
It's all about the small "touches," which include checking your biases at the door, being curious, and listening well.
I run full programs around these subjects; reach out if you are interested