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No. 9 – Finding Common Ground

December 15, 2010

Last week we looked at ways to establish rapport by building a bridge between the other person and ourselves. Without a bridge for communication we are all separated by a canyon of differences due to feelings, beliefs, values, perceptions, ideas, etc. you can enhance communication by finding ways to put yourself on the other person’s side.

This is not an easy matter, mainly because we usually do not know what it means to be on the other person’s side. We do not know what she feels, what she values, or where she is at any given moment in terms of hopes, fears, stresses, and joys.

Unfortunately, we cannot gain insight into where the other person is coming from until we establish a common basis for sharing this kind of information. Therefore, our challenge is to find out what we share in common by observation, listening, and intuition.

You can begin by observing physical attributes, such as sex, age, weight, hair coloring, style and color of clothing, jewelry, or other distinguishing features. Based on these initial observations, you then use your intuition to respond to those attributes that you either share in common, or to which you can relate.

For example, when I was introduced to a man with a luxuriant reddish brown beard, I complimented him on his beard and mentioned that my beard looked like that once (my beard is now white). By recognizing and complimenting his beard, I found a common ground (fellow beard wearers) that opened the door for a more personal level of sharing.

I also notice names, accents, or other indications of geographical origin. For example, when I hear a Polish name, I ask if he has been to Poland to trace his origins. I then mention that I had a project in Poland for many years and in Poland a person’s name identifies his family and locale of origin.

When I see a wedding ring, I often ask if he has children. With four children of my own, I can relate to the role of parent. I also look for indications of type of work, hobbies, or other interests to which I can relate. According to what I observe, I ask about the nature of the person’s work or interests, such as cars, sports, computers, etc.

Finding common ground is a matter of observing as many points in common as possible. Be cautious, however, and check out your observations and assumptions by asking for verification. By answering your questions, people will tell you about their common ground.

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