Thinking Out Loud


Lloyd is CEO of a small manufacturing company. He’s a master at figuring out systems to organize efficient processes. He loves the challenge—deciding on the best outcome and then analyzing tasks to achieve the goal. The employees respect Lloyd’s knowledge and intelligence, his work ethic, and commitment to the employees and the company.

Although the employees clearly recognize and appreciate Lloyd’s talents, they also question his motivations; and while they like him, they are tentative when it comes to totally trusting him. These mixed feelings and observations cause many to speculate about what Lloyd is “really” thinking and his “real” goals. It’s not that they suspect Lloyd is actually untrustworthy or has done anything illegal or unethical; it’s just that most of the employees have an unsettled feeling about his leadership.

Lloyd has strong linguistic skills, which he demonstrates in writing more than in speaking, and he has very strong logical skills, which are easily seen in the way he analyzes processes. In conversation, he is clearly involved in the give and take and listens carefully—but here’s the rub. Although Lloyd listens carefully, others don’t feel that they are being heard. How can that be?

Lloyd is genuinely interested in the conversation; others can easily perceive this. He understands and has the knack for reframing—meaning he tries to restate what he’s just heard so the speaker knows the message has been received. But an aspect to Lloyd’s reframing is what causes a problem. As Lloyd is absorbing the communication from the other person he is also rapidly and internally analyzing and connecting aspects of the communication to other thoughts, feelings, and ideas. So when he speaks, the reframing commentary includes Lloyd’s ideas in a way that obscures those of the person he’s talking with. The net effect is that the speaker can’t identify his or her ideas/feelings in what Lloyd says. It feels like Lloyd hasn’t listened, let alone heard the original message, or that the original communication was lost and Lloyd is in his own world. No wonder there was a feeling of uncertainty bordering on lack of trust.

To remedy this communication problem, Lloyd learned to slow his thought process by first asking himself the question “What’s important to the other person?” This helps him focus on the other person and validate their concerns/ideas. From there Lloyd learned to make mental notes as a conversation progresses but hold them back until he is certain he understands and validates the other person. Then he formally presents his thoughts by saying something like, “Well, I have several ideas.” And then lists the thoughts, so a give and take conversation can evolve.

By using his logical skills Lloyd has learned to organize important conversations in a particular sequence that allows others to be heard and for him to express his complex response. He also discovered one additional thing: his mind moves very quickly and by slowing down the communication process he doesn’t lose any of the rapid thoughts he has, something he once feared would happen. He developed an internal process of “making note” of something and creating a mental list.

Finally, Lloyd discovered that he did not have to do all of this perfectly. He developed the habit of following-up with people to summarize and make sure they felt heard and that he really did understand. This revisiting did more than anything to increase the trust Lloyd wanted to build with his employees.

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