Think about how your audience is going to interpret your intentions. Are you working to deeply understand so you can help, or are you inadvertently creating roadblocks? Pay attention to how you project yourself.
Imagine someone asking you “Why do you want to do that?” Is the tone friendly and curious, deep and probing, insulting and sarcastic, or maybe half-hearted and distracted? Remember, your purpose is to understand so that you can respond appropriately to the request.
Be nice and focused. Even to the people who annoy you. It’ll help you be more effective and more often than you think, you’ll get important nuggets that could affect how you tackle the task at hand.
Your approach will be different depending on if you are face-to-face, on the phone or communicating over email. The more removed, the easier to misunderstand – in particular, your tone (hence all the emoticons that are exploding in emails and texts).
On a related note, the better you know the other person, the more you can anticipate if you’re likely to get on the same page quickly or not. Sometimes I go into a situation thinking I already know how my interaction is going to unfold based on previous ones. You have Mary who always immediately understand your intentions while the same words to George creates misunderstandings. Obviously, take more time with George! When I have the foresight and discipline to be open and warmly inquisitive with my personally challenging colleagues, I usually still have a fruitful exchange that moves us in the right direction.
The focus of this piece began in the professional realm, but the principles translate into the personal as well. Gently but pointedly asking why has paid me dividends not only in the office but also at the DMV, the supermarket and with kids. Your approach makes all the difference in the world.