It’s not surprising that Jason Headley’s recent video, above, has gone viral. It’s a hilarious take on how difficult communication between two loving people can be. Those of us who are fixers want to fix! Those of us who are talkers want to be heard! We carry our need to be a fixer or a talker to work with us too. Good or bad, these are not traits that we can check at the door when we cross the threshold of our place of employment. So what can be done?
When teaching and consulting, I frequently touch on the importance of becoming a good active listener at work. Headley’s video beautifully and comically captures how difficult it can be actively listen to someone and resist the temptation of fixing her problem. Clearly, the female protagonist is not ready to pull the nail out of her forehead. She just wants to be heard. She wants sympathy and understanding. Who wouldn’t feel maddened by this scenario? “Just let me pull it out,” we want to say to her.
The male listener needs to wait for the right set of circumstances, a certain je nais se quoi, or possibly what my first boss would call “the teachable moment,” to straightforwardly address the real problem – the nail. Until that time, he must let her suffer. Active listening can be maddening but it can also give us great ammunition when the teachable moment finally arrives because we are prepped and ready to list all of the facts and the solution. A good active listener is able to:
1. Listen without making premature judgments or interpretations.
2. Empathize with the speaker.
3. Observe non-verbal cues.
4. Restrain himself from solving the problem or sharing his viewpoint, until he feels the speaker is ready to hear the solution.
5. Ask open-ended questions.
So, go ahead and share this hilarious video with your workmates to remind them that active listening can improve your love relationships and your work relationships. Just remember, that while it’s easy to make gender stereotypes about who’s more likely to be a fixer and who’s more likely to be a talker – it doesn’t always work out the way you might think in real life. I know since I’m a pathological fixer. During my last in-class exercise when I paired the entire class up to practice active listening, I quickly rushed-in to solve my male student’s problem and broke every rule listed above. Oops!
Active listening is a learned skill that some of us have more nature talent for than others. I’m a work in progress who hopes to get better at restraining my fixing tendencies, looking for the teachable moment, and finding more success in my communications – at work and at home.