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Don’t Kid Yourself, It’s Not All Logic

Posted on June 28, 2010 by Leslie Dickson

lead like spock

Here’s something for you to ponder. Business practices are built entirely on logical thinking. Cool heads rule. Decisions are based on thoughtful analyses. Emotions are messy. They have no place in the world of commerce, and professionals who express their emotions in the workplace are weak.

Have you ever wondered why listening—the simple act of taking in a spoken message—is so very difficult to master? Intellectually, the idea of listening is easy to understand. It appears to be passive in nature; you just sit there and . . . well . . . listen. So what’s the big deal?

To begin with, listening isn’t passive at all. It requires that you fully understand the message from the other person’s point of view. You must also recognize that point of view as valid, even if it differs from your own. Contrary to prevailing opinion, being a good listener doesn’t obligate you to agree with what you hear. In fact, putting yourself in the other’s place and seeing things from their perspective is evidence of strength and insight on your part.

The other difficulty relates to the misconception I spoke of earlier, which is the disregard of the emotional factors central to any interaction. Like it or not, we are all emotional creatures. Our first reaction to any stimulus is emotional. In the split seconds before our brains kick in, our adrenal glands are working overtime and our gut reactions take hold. That means that people who appear to be basing their arguments on facts may actually be churning with emotion on the inside.

This puts demands on the listener, who must determine whether the speaker’s words are coming from a logical or an emotional base. Good listening requires your full attention on both aspects of the speaker’s words. Are his comments fact-based, reasonable, and grounded in sound principles of logic? Is she being melodramatic, with tone and gestures that are over the top? Or has he gone silent on you, closed up and shut down? You must become well versed in nonverbal communication and learn to read between the lines. The speaker’s tone of voice and body language—even when they are subtle—will give you much more information than relying on the words alone.

Here are some indicators to look for when you’re distinguishing between logic and emotion:

The words don’t match the behavior.

When a verbal-nonverbal mismatch occurs, the nonverbal takes precedence. If the words say one thing and the tone of voice contradicts it, the tone of voice tells the real story. If positive words flow from a scowling face, it’s time to stop and reassess what you’re hearing. Regardless of what is being said, look carefully at body language and pay close attention to the tone of voice. The speaker’s words will give you information; his or her behavior will give you the meaning behind the words, including important clues to the underlying emotions.

The words are overstated.

Words like always, never, obviously, and worst are all good indicators that strong emotions are present. “We never come to an agreement . . .” “You always say that . . . ” “Obviously, this strategy won’t work . . .” The reality is these statements are too harsh to possibly be true; we agree sometimes, I don’t always say that, and this strategy may, in fact, be quite workable. When you hear these red-flag words, it’s a pretty good bet emotions are running high.

The body language and/or vocal tone is out of character.

A normally calm and centered person becomes visibly tense; a friendly, warm person suddenly clamps his jaw and goes dead silent; a usually poised person loses her cool and goes for the jugular—these are clear signs that emotions are overriding customary behavior and that rational thinking is being distorted.

Making the effort to distinguish between a speaker’s logical argument and it’s emotional origin is not a passive process. When you sense the speaker’s emotions are getting in the way of a fruitful conversation, you can’t ignore them. Acknowledge the emotion; don’t discount it. Once the speaker feels heard and understood at the emotional level, you can then move forward confidently into a more reasonable and productive discussion.

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