When it comes to improving our interpersonal communication skills, adding too much value is one of the top things that we are guilty of, particularly in our closest relationships. Marshall Goldsmith defines “adding extra value” as the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion, which is something that comes from needing to win.
Take my father, for instance. Most of the time I talk to him about something, instead of listening with the intent to understand, he has to talk more about it by way of “explaining” regardless of the value added or not. This is common not only in my limited interactions with him, but also true with most people he talks to. Although they may not be aware of it, I suspect they possibly feel it at some level. The worst part (and also frustrating for us family members) is that he is totally oblivious about the whole thing.
We routinely see this behavior with those in higher levels of an organization and even with business owners running their own enterprise, where they seem to tell everyone what to do or talk down to their people. When a subordinate presents his ideas to the boss (let’s say), the boss might say, “That’s a great idea, but…”, thereby adding too much value when it’s totally unwarranted. Rather than stopping at “idea”, and appreciating others, they feel compelled to make the idea better (regardless of the quality of the idea).
Instead of letting subordinates do their jobs (they were hired for a reason), the bosses want to keep telling them how to do things. This kind of behavior ends up demotivating the person and causes resentment within them. Things like these accumulating cumulatively over a period of time ultimately causes the employees to leave their jobs. In essence, they are leaving their bosses.
One reason we find it difficult to listen to others is that we either think that we already know something or we know a better way of doing something, thereby adding the extra value to the discussion at hand. For instance, there are times when we hear things from others that we already know or are aware of. So we respond with, “I knew that…” instead of listening to them.
Here are some examples of how we are guilty of adding extra value in our conversations with others:
When we are talking to others, instead of listening to them with the intent to understand and to empathize with them, we feel the need to present solutions (adding too much value) to solve their problems. The problem is in understanding that when they are in an emotional state (positive/negative), they are not looking for advice or feedback. And the last thing we want is to give solutions at this premature stage. When others share things with us, we need to listen to them and ensure they are heard instead of giving them solutions.
When someone is sharing their story with us, and we interrupt them because we want to share a similar story/experience, we cut them mid-sentence and start with our own story instead of letting them finish theirs. We do this while being totally oblivious to what/how the other person thinks and/or feels. This could be seen as one-upping them even if it wasn’t your intention to do so; they will definitely feel so, though they won’t always tell you that.
What happens when we add too much value? The other person feels interrupted. At this point, it is no longer their idea, but our idea. With that, we also take away their ownership of the idea. By not letting the person finish, we are not listening to them, let alone trying to understand them.
The problem is that we may have improved the idea by a tiny percent at the cost of reducing their commitment by a larger percent, and, in turn, they feel robbed in terms of the value they were adding to the conversation. This creates resentment in them because we have taken the ownership of their idea from them.
Here are some ways to prevent us from adding too much value:
Even before you speak, pause, take a breath, and then ask yourself if what you’re about to say is worth it. The next time a colleague tells you about their idea, take a breath, say that it’s a great idea, and stop there. Stop trying to make their idea better even if (and especially when) you have a better idea. The funny thing is, when we pause to take a break and to think about our response, we realize that at least half of what we were going to say was not worth it.
Stop using words like “no”, “but”, “however”, especially at the start of a sentence. Stop saying, “Yes, but…” or any variation thereof. For more on this, read Words.
If you find yourself doing this more often than you’d like, you can stop this bad habit by “punishing” yourself by giving away a $20 bill to your colleague every time you do it. It’s only a matter of time before it will start working for you.
It can be frustrating to be at the receiving end of this especially when working with others. For instance, if you have a boss who is guilty of this behavior, the best thing you can do is be proactive about it, and short of being insubordinate, stick to your position.
Our need to be right can have long-term detrimental effects in our relationships in ways we can’t even imagine. If gone unchecked, we could be guilty of adding too much value with our colleagues, family, and friends, thereby alienating them without us fully knowing why.
Regardless, there is often more to be gained by talking less and by listening more. The best thing we can do is to be aware of this negative behavior and keep it to a minimum.