L. Michael Hall tells us that our mind will play a movie in our head when we hear or observe something.   Once the movie starts, our state of mind is affected, emotions kick in then we react.  For example, if we see a work colleague upset and crying, our movie could go something like this: ‘a. so she is crying, b. yesterday she yelled at me and pushed in front of me in the microwave queue; this is not a nice person and she has probably deserved whatever is upsetting her’.  Our state of mind becomes smug and a bit superior, we almost feel a little happy and keep walking on by ignoring the emotional display.

Or our movie could go: ‘a. so she is crying, b. yesterday she yelled at me and pushed in front of me in the microwave queue; she’s obviously upset, no one deserves to feel this way’.  We feel concerned and curious, then a little sad so put our arms around her in comfort.  Two quite different outcomes from two slightly different movies which serve to demonstrate that we have time between the movie and our reaction.

But sometimes that time is almost non-existent.  Think of a road rage incident.  Someone cuts you off in traffic.  The movie immediately provides, ‘idiot, I’ve been wronged, how dare he’.  You feel furious since you’ve gone from 0 to 10 on the anger scale so you give the chap your best blast on the horn and up goes the middle finger.  Instant reaction.  The trick is to extend the time between movie and reaction.

We know that communication is a two-way street both parties having responsibility for delivering and receiving the message.  The challenge is to consider the movie playing when someone is speaking to you.  Listen to the words and consider whether your movie all there and, if it isn’t, ask for clarification.  People tend to exclude, delete and generalise which will result in movie holes.  For example, as you cuddle up your colleague, (the microwave pusher inner), she says, “everyone hates me’.   Movie stopper so ask the question, “who is everyone? I don’t hate you, (despite you getting your lunch before me).  Brad Pitt doesn’t hate you, so who is it?”  You get the idea and hopefully by asking questions, your colleague will too.

Example no. 2: Friend: ‘we went to a show last night’.  You (movie is blank) so ‘who did you go with? what show? where was it? who was in it? what was it about? did you enjoy it”, etc.  The movie now starts to come to life and, with a little extra communication, in your head, you are enjoying the show right along with your friend and you didn’t even need to pay the money to go!

Asking questions will help to you to improve your listening and communication skills by making conversations richer, more specific and so more fulfilling.  Maximise your mojo – when listening, think whether you can play the movie.