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How Long Since You
Cleaned Your Personal Filter?

Good communication only occurs when our messages are received in the way we intended. Our prejudices, negative attitudes and emotions, and using the wrong words at the wrong time all work to prevent this from happening.

by Lillian D. Bjorseth

Most of us who live in Chicago share a commonality: We or someone we live with, or someone paid to do so, changed our furnace filters several times during the past months. We did it to ensure that we breathe clean air, and dust doesn’t collect nearly as quickly on our belongings.

As a communication skills speaker, trainer and author, I ask you on a similar note: “When is the last time you changed your personal filter?”

Some of us, I dare say, have so much guck in ours that we can barely hear, much less listen!

Good communication occurs only when others receive our message in the manner in which we intended it to be. Responsibility rests with both parties. Let’s look at how we as “hearers” can block the process.

Listening: why step two is crucial

Listening is a six-step hierarchical process: sensing, interpreting, evaluating, understanding, responding, remembering. It’s the second step where our “dust” comes into play.

To understand this step better, think of yourself as having a giant filtering system. Everything you hear passes through that system, which is made up of your needs, values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and experiences. Since each of us brings different ones to the listening process, each of us innately has different reactions to what the speaker says.

Each of us also has our own “stuff” that dirties our filters: prejudices, prejudgments, lack of interest, envy, jealousy, anger, revenge, hatred, the need to be right and our own special “grime.” Can you see how hard it can become for anyone to get through clearly and how communication failures happen at work and at home?

Simple words, yet not so simple

To make matters worse, our filtering system is responsible for another major communication challenge: Words have no meaning! People give meaning to words.

For example, the word “alcoholic” has a very different resonance for those who have lived with one. The same is true for the word “work alcoholic.” “Discrimination” has a different emotional response for women and minorities who have experienced it in the workplace.

In my workshops I often ask people to list words they use in business that might be interpreted differently or be offensive to employees or customers. Most begin with hesitancy since they haven’t been asked to do this before. Once started, they reel off words quickly.

One of my participants, a software trainer, recalled how the first thing he said to his class was that today he would be used the bible of software training, i.e., they were getting the best. One of his students immediately responded with, “I know of only one Bible, and it doesn’t teach me about software.”

It took him a while to recover from that initial “slap in the face.” He never used bible in that context again.

On another level, I also give participants a chance to share words others use that offend them.

Take a minute and compile your lists. You have control over the first; stop using those words. You also have the right to share with others when they use words that offend you.

Ready to start? Some practical suggestions

Awareness precedes change. Are you ready to start cleaning your filter?

Follow these suggestions to help reduce conflict, improve communication and strengthen your relationships.

  1. List your prejudices and face them head on. Are they based on race, gender, religion, age, status or educational background (add your own)?

  2. Form your opinion in the moment. Don’t prejudge situations, presenters, your co-workers or parents’ or children’s reactions, a book before you have read it, the taste of food before you have eaten it (add your own).

  3. Help yourself. Read books and magazines, attend seminars, listen to CDs, watch select TV programs to help you grow personally and professionally.

  4. Ask for feedback. Have the confidence to inquire how you are perceived.

  5. Stop conversations that are going down the wrong track and ask, “Why”? Solve the challenges on the spot rather than parting confused or even angry with the other person.

Lillian D. Bjorseth helps you build high-value relationships by honing your business networking, business development and communication skills. She’s the author of Breakthrough Networking: Building Relationships That Last, 52 Ways to Break the Ice & Target Your Market, and the Nothing Happens Until We Communicate CD and workbook series. She’s a contributing author to Masters of Networking. Lillian is an Inscape Publishing certified DiSC® trainer and a member of National Speakers Assn. She spent 11 years at AT&T where she trained top executives in communication and media skills. Contact her at lillianspeaks@duoforce.com, http://www.duoforce.com, 800-941-3788 (outside IL) or 630-983-5308.

Some Related Articles:

How Faulty Filters Lead to Faulty Communications
Time to Take Out Your Garbage!
Seven Barriers to Great Communication
What Are Good Manners?
Known By the Fall: How People Harm Themselves and Their Relationships
Heeeeeere's JOHNNY!: Applying the 'Carson Principle'
Can You Become More Likeable?
Hey You - Watch Your Mouth!
Yes, the Words Do Matter!
Putting Out the Dirt: Consequences of a Judgmental Attitude

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