High-resolution conversations

How can you show up to conversations to understand the client better or, when talking to a friend or colleague, help them uncover their true challenge? 

TL;DR — Be more childlike.

The first thing is metacognition — being aware of your thinking. For example, do I have an agenda? Am I just waiting for the other person to finish talking so I can say something? Am I talking just so I look good or interrupting them because what I have to say is more important? Send your ego for a walk. 

Based on years of experience, when I have no agenda, I’m not worried about what I’m going to say, I can honestly focus on what the other person is telling me, and I can listen and ask meaningful questions.

Listening in conversation goes way beyond asking pre-canned questions or nodding along and acting out some of that shallow surface-level stuff to let the other person know that we’re listening to them. Minimize the theatrics. You’re not fooling anyone. 

Deep listening begins by not worrying about what you will say next. In the beginning, you will feel pressured to finish the other person’s sentence or offer a solution. Avoid doing that, and instead, sit back in a meditative state as the other person is unpacking their thoughts. Next, start building out a visual map of the conversation, literally or metaphorically.

And wherever the map is low resolution, those are the questions you want to begin asking. When you’re doing that, the other person will feel understood and heard, and you’re not just doing it to fulfill some shallow desire to look good. Being self-aware and having empathy is what’s under the hood.

So, authentic communication and understanding are all about the things you’re not doing. You’d think it’s about what to say, but it’s actually about shutting those lips tight and just listening, paying attention to what the person is saying and not saying. Read between the lines in four dimensions.

So let’s go ahead and summarize. You’re listening without an agenda, without judgment and okay with having paradoxes and juxtaposing views from different stakeholders, especially if you are in conversations with a larger group (corporate settings) because all those perspectives could be correct based on the person expressing them. Ever imagine what the map of the world looks like to a fish?

I’ll admit, at first, it’s hard to do. But every time you listen, time should fly by quickly. They (wise folks) say creation happens in a flow state. Listening is no different. And when you’re in the flow state of listening, you’re enjoying what the other person is saying while making mental images in your head. Kids below age seven do this naturally in a theta brainwave state.

High-resolution understanding begins by tapping into the kid inside you.

By Paul Syng

Paul Syng is a multi-disciplinary designer based in Toronto. He focuses on a problem-seeking, systems thinking approach that can take any form or function.