Listen to understand.

How often have you been in a team or group meeting of some sort, conflict flares, and before you know it, there’s too much talking and not enough listening?

Don’t be that person. Increase your self-awareness. Dial-in to your listening (or not) behaviours. Here’s a simple technique to help you, Summer before Fall.

Summer before Fall  

Summer before Fall is a (non-gender-specific) technique to cool things down when tensions rise in your group. The technique promotes active listening and perspective taking. I sourced this technique, years ago, from Craig Rundle’s book on Building Conflict Competent Teams. The technique is very similar to approaches I use in mediation.

Summer before Fall is a play on words. It refers to the process of summarizing another’s view before falling into an explanation of one’s own. Its aimed at those team members, who, when the discussion heats up, tend to dominate the discussion without acknowledging other’s points of view.

When one teammate is able to restate, paraphrase back, another teammate’s position or viewpoint to the satisfaction of the original speaker, good things happen. The first speaker feels acknowledged and understood. The summarizing speaker becomes mindful of the first speaker’s point. The remainder of the team hears the point from a slightly different point of view and can assess it carefully. When alternate perspectives are heard and understood, more possibilities for agreement are available. Perspective taking is a constructive behaviour that deescalates conflict.

Summer before Fall is most effective when its used before teammates argue themselves into polar positions. Often, a brief summarization slows the conversation and everyone’s thinking down, so they could consider rather than react.

Implementing Summer before Fall

The technique is quite easy to understand. It can be challenging to use, though, especially when tensions are high.

Here are three ways I suggest you consider for implementing Summer before Fall:

1. Any teammate can initiate the use of this technique by simply asking teammates to summarize another’s position, feeling, or idea before making a point.

Example:  “Norm – I’m not sure you understood my idea. Summer before Fall, please.”

Of course, just the act of asking someone to paraphrase (even via Summer before Fall) what you said may not come easy, especially for serious conflict avoiders. As a team leader, you can support individual team members through modeling and coaching, in order help them assert their interests.

2. The team, as a whole, encourages the expectation of Summer before Fall by including it in their team agreement or code of conduct; e.g.,

Team members value perspective taking by actively acknowledging others points of view before asserting their own.

Having the desired behaviour named in a team agreement also makes it easier to enforce that behaviour. “We all agreed that…”

3. If the team or group dynamics are coloured by ongoing interpersonal relationship conflict, sometimes bringing in a neutral third party facilitator can help.

A skilled neutral can help individuals explore their own behaviours, and shift the focus from relationship conflict to task conflict, i.e., shift the focus from the people to the problem. After all, most conflict can only be managed, not resolved.

Still not enough listening in your meeting?

Adhering to “you can’t control what you can’t measure” – perhaps we need to track whose doing the talking, and how much?

My daughter (not surprisingly) oriented me to this simple (and playful? truthful?) are-men-talking-too-much? counter app.

I suspect that you agree with me that the metrics that flowed from using this app could provide useful information, related to Summer before Fall.