What do They Hear You Saying

One of the conversations I find myself in a lot these days involves a client asking me how to get people to change. Makes sense – a lot of my clients are in businesses that are constantly having to respond to new competition, new market conditions or little things like a new virus that spread across the globe with astonishing speed. Business is really about change.

I just had the windows at my house cleaned for the time in a couple of years. They were horribly dirty, and the change I needed was to have clean windows. However, I put it off for lots of reasons. Finding a day I could be there to let them in. Wondering if it was safe at the height of the pandemic lockdowns. Wondering if we should wait until we got a couple of the broken windows replaced first. Needing to find a window cleaner that can handle really, really tall windows. I had a lot of reasons for avoiding getting the change I needed.

Finally, I happened to be at a friend’s place on the day her windows were getting cleaned. The company she was using had no problem with really, really tall windows. I asked for a business card and made the call. Within a month, they pulled into my driveway, ready for a day of transformation. My windows went from having dirt and spiderwebs collected on them to shiny and clear. Their business gave me the change I was looking for.

Once the windows were done, I wondered what in the heck took me so long. It was as if I had gone blind to how bad the situation had gotten. There’s an ad on TV about the odors in our house. They talk about a thing called “nose blindness”, meaning that we can’t smell odors that persist for a long time. I guess I had “window blindness.” The situation had to get really bad to finally get my clean windows.

It makes me wonder how I would have responded if someone coming into my house, seeing my filthy windows covering up my million-dollar view, would have said “Hey Lynn, I noticed your windows need cleaning. I know just the guy.”

I’m not sure I would have heard them say those words. I probably would have heard something more like this: “Lynn, you are not a very good housekeeper. I can’t believe you let your windows get this bad. If you were a good person, you would make sure this never happened again. Since you can’t seem to handle it, I will come to your rescue with my advice because I’m smarter than you. You’re welcome.”

In other words, I might have taken it personally. So personally.

And my windows would have stayed dirty, because I would rather be offended with dirty windows than let them be right. Even though they weren’t judging me. I was doing that all by myself.

When I interviewed Nahshon Cook for my podcast last year, we talked about the challenges of communicating with horses, who don’t speak English. They also don’t take offense. They show us exactly what they are hearing us tell them. When I can’t get a horse to give me the change I am asking for, it’s usually because he is not hearing what I am saying. Early in my horse training, I caught myself asking questions like “Why won’t he listen to me? Can’t he see the how bad this is? What is wrong with him?”

Projecting my anger and frustration will not get me the change I’m looking for.

I have to change the way I say it, so it becomes as clear as my newly cleaned windows. A better question is “What is he hearing me say?”

One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned with horses is that they don’t have the same inner dialogue I have. They are not judging me and thinking “Lynn is such a bad rider.” They are simply trying to understand what I am asking. When I have a clear picture of where I want to go and a clear way of asking for it, they almost always go right to the picture.

Back to the conversations about getting people to change. I’m not sure it’s possible to “get people to change.”

What we can do is illuminate the factors creating the need for change. Without judgment. We might have to show it fifteen different ways before they see it. We certainly need to find out how they see things. We need to understand what’s in their field of view that we can’t see. We need to assume that there might be something we are missing.

And if they are still not changing, we might have to ask “What are they hearing me say?”