Key aspects of communication often go unnoticed: avoiding assumptions and asking quality questions. These skills can help you create stronger relationships in both personal and professional spheres. Important celebrations such as AAPI Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, PRIDE Month, and many others, give us a unique opportunity to explore our listening skills and ask pertinent questions that test our unconscious biases and create a needed dialogue.
A number of years ago, I found myself at a hospital in Wichita, KS. I roamed the hospital in search of food and was met by a friendly attendant.
Our exchange went like this:
Attendant, with a smile, “Hi, can I help you find something?”
Me, “I’m looking for something to eat. How’s the cafeteria?”
Attendant, “Foods not great there. But there’s a Chinese restaurant across the street.”
Me, “What else is there?”
Attendant, staring at me closer, “There’s a Japanese restaurant down that way.”
Me, “Na.” Attendant, “How about Thai, it’s about a quarter mile away.”
In this moment, I realized that he was trying to figure out my background to accommodate me. I wondered if I should be offended, when he squinted his eyes and said, “Mexican?” I smiled. He finally asked, “Where are you from?” I calmly responded, “I’m from New York. How about a burger?” He pointed me in the direction of Sonic Burger… yum.
As I reflect on this interaction, I realized how different and less awkward it could’ve been if assumptions were avoided. Here are some key strategies to follow in your personal and professional interactions:
- Remain Present: Put aside distractions and give your undivided attention to the person you are speaking with. By showing genuine interest and respect, you create an environment for meaningful conversation.
- Challenge Stereotypes: Be aware of any stereotypes or biases you might hold and consciously work to challenge them.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: Ask questions that prompt detailed responses. This shows your genuine curiosity about the topic and encourages a healthy conversation.
- Practice Empathy: Try to understand the speaker’s emotions, concerns, and perspectives. Put yourself in their shoes to gain a deeper insight into their thoughts and feelings.
We are often well intentioned and want to help, but it is easy to fall into talk and tell mode instead of listen and ask.
The ability to truly listen and ask open questions is a rare and invaluable skill to avoid making assumptions. By honing your communication skills, you not only enhance your interpersonal relationships but also gain the ability to make more informed decisions and improve your day-to-day interactions. Remember, communication is a two-way street. Asking the right questions, avoiding assumptions, and active listening are the bridge that connects us to others in a meaningful way.