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Our "Tells"​ and How They Can Impact Others

I was talking with a dear friend of mine about challenges I have been facing recently. After he provided very sound advice, I said, “I hear you.” He then paused and responded, “wow, ok” proceeding to explain how it came across to him. I learned these words can send the message: “thanks, but no thanks,” “I am brushing you off,” “I am dismissing your point of view.” And the way I responded showed I was not "hearing him."

At that moment, I recalled a similar situation that occurred about six months ago. I was connecting with a colleague and during the conversation they brought up the subject of tells. They shared one of my tells is when I say “let’s talk about that” while leading a conversation or attempting to influence. I learned that this statement could leave others waiting for the ball to drop and may not create the space for people to really “talk about that”.

My friend and colleague were right. I had to admit that I say, “I hear you” and “let’s talk about that” often and realized my impact differed from my intentions.

“I hear you,” and “let’s talk about that,” are my tells.

A tell is something we unknowingly do to communicate our opinions, thoughts, or behaviors. It could be through our words or actions. Consider the game of poker. A poker player may have a tell showing the strength or weakness of their hand. They lean back, fidget, touch their face, talk more or less. Translating to our working relationships, someone can often receive our tell with a different meaning than intended and suppress progress, as what occurred in my case.

I admit, when I encountered the first situation a while back, I did not set out to change anything. I was more aware and did my best to not say “let’s talk about that,” although I struggled to find another way.

After this most recent encounter, however, I realized that this was my growth point-the point when we realize we have the opportunity to be better and identify specific steps to get there. People I respect, value, and learn from shared how my words and actions could impede progress and conversation.

Reflecting on this feedback, I regrouped about what I was trying to convey and identified what I would do differently.

What I was trying to convey:

  • When I say, “I hear you,” I am trying to show empathy, that I am listening, or I recognize I need to consider what others have shared before I am ready to commit to action or a decision.

  • When I say, “Let’s talk about that,” it is because I disagree, or I have another point of view. I also use it when I want others to engage in the conversation before committing.

What will I do differently? I will say what I mean:

  • “I hear you,” to “thank you, I appreciate your sound advice,” “thank you, and I will consider this as I define next steps,” or “I do not know the right words, thank you for sharing this with me.”

  • “Let’s talk about that,” to “I have another view,” “I disagree and…” or “thank you, other views?”

When we realize our growth point, we discover the opportunity to learn and believe we can be even better, even if we do not always get it right. It is about leading with humility and courage to learn from others and progressing with the intention to make the effort to realize the outcomes we seek.

I am grateful to have discovered this blind spot, otherwise, the impact of my words would have been far-reaching. I see how this simple change in how I communicate makes me, and those around me, even better.

As you reflect on how your words or actions impact others, ask yourself:

1. What are my tells? Not sure, ask your colleagues.

2. How are my tells affecting progress and conversation?

3. What will I do differently to have the impact I intended?

4. What tells have I been subject to and what was the impact?

I encourage you to take this last question a step further and share what could be a blind spot with your colleague(s).

It is through practice, asking for feedback and suggestions, and following up that we experience positive change. This leads to our growth point, where we can answer: what can I do today to be even better tomorrow?

Keep growing.

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