I listened to the engineer tell the woman about the standards found in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. You should have seen the look on her face. The engineer could tell she wasn’t getting it, so he decided to dig even deeper into his engineer toolbox for a more detailed description.
That description didn’t help either. Her patience ran out. “If we have to close the road can’t we at least make it look good? Why do we need a bunch of ugly barricades?” At this point the engineer started to get flustered.
Watching from the sidelines I could tell this was a classic case of talking past each other. Both took turns talking, but neither was listening.
I continued to watch the interaction because I had a hunch about how it would end. Unfortunately, my hunch proved correct. After more terse interactions, the engineer basically quit on her. Sensing he had disengaged, the woman started to get even more agitated. The other neighbors standing around me at that city-sponsored open house got quiet. The woman then abruptly left.
Talking past each other happens when we fail to identify the underlying issue. Her underlying issue was not solely the design of the closed road. Her underlying issue that came out in her rant was that nobody was listening to her suggestions about how to make the closed road more appealing.
Listening is never just about the words. It’s about all the things that go with the words. The tone, the pauses, the sentiment, the gestures, the volume. It all comes together to tell the story. Want better results, start listening more broadly to the message being delivered.