Shhhhh... Are You Listening?

Say what you will about reality shows, but I just watched one with a fabulous lesson. "Ruby" (The Style Network) is about a strong Southern woman losing lots of weight. When we first met Ruby, she was topping the scales at over 700 pounds. She is now down to 365 and counting.

The particular episode I watched found Ruby concerned. She was afraid she would plateau at a weight of 365 pounds, but really wanted to make it to her next magic number, 350, a weight she had not seen since high school. She was worried about her knees, which were increasingly bothering her as a result of carrying extra weight. And, she was troubled that her workouts were becoming rote and boring. Throughout the episode she expressed these concerns quite clearly to her friends, her doctor and her trainers.

Interestingly, her trainers were unable to hear Ruby. Their responses to her boredom with the routine, the pain in her knees and her apprehension about losing the next 15 pounds were to keep doing exactly what she had been doing. More treadmill. Ruby broached the subject again with her trainers. Again they did not hear her.

Ruby then arranged for her doctor and a fitness guru to meet with her trainers. Even in the face of increasing evidence, the trainers were so entrenched in being "right," that in the end they lost their client, their payment and their weekly appearance in the cable line-up. While I am sure I could stand to lose a few pound and tone my muscles, the larger lesson for me was: What am I missing that others are trying to tell me?

Are others able to hear what you are telling them?

When you attempt to communicate a crucial piece of information, take the time to really plan your strategy.

Face to Face ~ While clearly less daunting, telephone and email messages are often lost over time and space. Make every effort to have an in-person conversation. Not only will you be able to ensure that you have the person's full attention, but you will also be able to scan for cues when they do and do not understand what you are saying. When it became clear to Ruby that her trainers were not listening to her, she coordinated a meeting for her doctor, the fitness guru and her trainers to all speak in the same room.

Check Your Timing ~ Different conversations are better at different times. Consider your message and when the other person will best be able to hear you. Are they a morning person? Do they need to leave work exactly on time to catch a commuter train? Is mid-week bad because they have to generate a big report for work?

Subtlety is Lost ~ Avoid hinting when communicating a delicate issue. Better to clearly state the issue. Ruby was forthright about the pain in her knees, her boredom and her fears. Yet even with her direct comments, her trainers did not hear her.

Pose the Problem ~ When stating an issue, stick with the facts and avoid your impressions, opinions and emotions. Instead of commenting on the pain in her knees, Ruby needed to tell her trainers that the workouts were no longer effective and that they needed to come up with a new plan.

Check for Understanding ~ Pause during the interaction to ask if the other person has any questions. If he/she is hearing you, he/she will have questions. If not, ask him/her to paraphrase the issue back to you. Ruby never asked her trainers if they understood her issues. This was most likely because they did not, and therefore she needed to try a different approach.

Have a Back-up ~ When you know you are not being heard, do not keep repeating yourself. Instead, end the interaction and consider another plan. When Ruby was not heard, she arranged for a meeting between her trainers and the experts. Ruby's hope was that the experts could communicate in a way that she was unable to.

Pose Solutions ~ Ideally the other person will understand and empathize right away. When this happens, both sides can brainstorm solutions together. Even when the other person is unable to hear you or understand your point of view, you can agree to disagree and instead focus on what will happen going forward. Ruby asked her trainers to introduce a new piece of exercise equipment for her to try. Unfortunately, they refused to budge.

Choose Your Alternatives ~ Life is full of choices. While we might not like any of our options, there are times when a relationship has run its course and it is time to move on to something new. Keeping in mind family constraints, professional obligations and other limitations, you can create a time-line for transitioning into a healthier situation. For Ruby, there was nothing tying her to these trainers. She was able to quit the gym and open a space in her life for a trainer who would be a better fit for her.

Ruby needed trainers who could listen and hear her concerns, and then work with her to find a new routine. To keep Ruby as a client, to keep their payments and to keep their television appearance, the trainers only needed to listen. Ruby wanted to exercise on a recumbent bike. If they did not have one at the gym, they could easily have spoken with their equipment supplier to obtain one. If only they could have listened and really heard her.

What messages are you missing?