Communication Skills

The Power of “Mmm”

By September 9, 2012 No Comments

If you know me, you know that I love to talk. Beyond professionally and the way that I make my living, if you’re in my living room or next to me on a line waiting to do anything, or just about anywhere, I’m likely to talk to you.

And if you ask my opinion, I’m likely to give it to you. Does this dress look good (in a dressing room)? Have you tried this brand (in a grocery store)? Do you like my new hair color and the length of it, it has been growing with the black castor oil (at lunch)? (Fair warning!)

You can imagine then, how difficult it is for me when I’m in an important situation – business or personally – and someone is saying something that I totally disagree with. I want to stop them, tell them how wrong they are, and move on to a smarter subject. (You don’t have to be a “talker” to want to do this, of course, but you can see how it is even more challenging for us to shut up.)

I’ve learned 2 things to help me (mostly) keep my foot out of my mouth:

#1. Putting any other person on the defensive – helping them feel wrong or dumb – will not yield best results. No matter how awesome my counter-idea might be, if the other person feels foolish because of the way that I present my idea, I will lose. (Even if I persuade them to do it my way, if I alienate them in any way or build a tiny wall between us, it will be that much harder to regain their trust and engagement.)

#2. The easiest way to not say anything – which gives me time to think and usually causes them to continue explaining themselves – is to simply say “Mmm”. It’s a mixture of hmm and umm and simply acknowledges that the other human being is making a point and that I am trying to take it in. I don’t agree or disagree, though, I can add a positive head bob to the Mmm, and it becomes more of an agreement, or I can look inquisitive in combo with my Mmm and it can show that I am thoughtfully thinking about what they’re saying. Either way, it keeps me from blurting out something that will violate #1; saying something that is less than kind from their perspective.

#2.5. I can’t help but add this one (though if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve seen it before). A great way to help people feel comfortable with you when you are in disagreement, is to listen for points with which you can authentically agree. If they say, “The sky is purple” and it isn’t sunset and it doesn’t look purple to you, you can’t agree. That would be a lie! (Use mmm, instead, with an inquisitive look!) But if they say, “I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive,” voila… you can authentically agree by saying, “You’re right! You have so much more experience than I do and ….”

Have you used these strategies? Tell us how they work. what suggestions do you have for dealing with difficult people and communicating your message?