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Inspiring others to do great work, and lead their best lives!

Making it Safe for Others to Tell You Their Story

In order to understand where something has gone off track with someone else, you need to learn more about what you don’t know. You need to understand what is going on for the other person, and what their story is. We have a hunch that the best way to get the information and the story is if the other person trusts you enough and feels safe enough to tell you how things are from their side of the fence. Their story is likely to come out in bits and pieces, or like the proverbial onion peeling. . . layer by layer. Be patient.

If you want to work on increasing safety for others, try these ideas when someone comes to you and asks to talk or when you recognize there’s a problem that needs/wants to be solved with a real life, breathing person.

  • Arrange for a time and place to talk, with no interruptions or distractions
  • Even if you’re the one to initiate the conversation, let the other person talk first
  • Be a good listener and don’t hijack the conversation to meet your own needs
  • Check your understanding of what you’re hearing, but don’t use this as a way to “drive” the conversation
  • Listen for understanding and avoid judging what you’re hearing. Notice whether you’re internally labeling the other person as right or wrong, or good or bad. If you are, let these judgments go for now. You can sort out your judgment thoughts later
  • Maintain a comfortable level of eye contact, and watch the body language (yours and the other person’s)
  • When you’re confident that you understand the story or problem from the other person’s perspective, summarize it and ask if you got it right or wrong or if you are missing something
  • Before you respond with your perspective, think about how and when the best time and place will be to share your story – how things look from your side of the fence.
  • Before you get started, get clear on what your goal or intention is. . . Think before you speak. What is it that you want to have happen as a result of continuing the conversation?

Remember: your starting point here was to work on making it safe for people to tell you anything and everything. That suggests that you are trustworthy – worthy of the trust that the other person is extending to you by sharing their story, their perspective, their information. How does this match up with your own story of how you want to “show up” in the lives of others at work and at home?

Ginger Ward-Green

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