Discourse or Discord?

Discourse or Discord?

By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA / Published March 2023

Photo by iStockphoto.com/Inside Creative House

Which word best describes your board meetings: discourse or discord?

      Discourse is a verbal exchange between people, a discussion, and a conversation.

     Discord is a disagreement, a variance, a failure to agree or harmonize, and a clash, strife, or dispute.

      The difference between the two may be subtle but profound. Discourse involves listening slowly; discord does not. Here are some tips to use at your next board meeting.

Listen Slowly

     This one is the hardest because you must slow down! Listening slowly includes not interrupting the other person while that person is speaking unless you are asking for clarification.

In other words, take time to listen. 

Listen with Empathy

      Show that you care (or are at least somewhat interested). Face the person talking, raise your eyebrows slightly, and nod slowly to indicate you are following what the person is saying. Try to avoid frowning or crossing your arms across your chest.

HOW To Listen with Empathy 

     This does not mean you have to like what’s being said or agree with it. It means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and feelings. There are many conversations that are more factual and don’t carry as much emotion with them; others are quite emotional. So, if what you are hearing has emotion attached to it, acknowledge the emotion. “I can tell you are really concerned about the funding of this project,” and, “If I were in your position, I would be overwhelmed right now.” Brushing off the emotion with, “That’s nothing, don’t worry about it,” will only make the emotion grow bigger. The more emotion that gets attached to an issue, the longer it will take to resolve it. As emotion grows, objectivity decreases. In the end, that decision could be made on emotion rather than objective facts.

Listen with Openness

     Though we all know people who believe they know it all and have done it all, it’s not true. Listening to opinions and perspectives of others is not weakness; it is wise. As the book of Proverbs says, “Wisdom comes from the counsel of many.” 

     Here are some attitudes that hinder listening:

  • Already decided or made up your mind
  • Day dreaming
  • Distractions
  • Selective hearing
  • Not asking enough clarifying questions to understand the issue
  • Not hearing what was said
  • Focusing on too much detail instead of the big picture

     Gathering others’ opinions takes time, humility, and a willingness to listen. When decisions have been made with all opinions heard, it is a win-win.

Listen with Curiosity

     Learn to be curious about the likes, dislikes, and beliefs of those around you. Be curious about what makes them tick. 

     Most of us listen only long enough to guess what’s going to be said, develop our opinion, and deliver it—all the while talking over the other individual. In doing so, we take the conversation away from him or her and make it about us. Hijacking a conversation on a regular basis will shut the other person down. Eventually the person will stop responding. You’ll have a disengaged employee, spouse, or teenager. You’ll get the blank stare and shrugged shoulders; the individual will turn around, roll his eyes, and walk away. 

     Instead of hijacking the conversation, make it a learning experience—for YOU. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person?” Make it your goal to become a student of the other person. But to learn, you must become skilled at asking questions, which is the next tip.

Listen for the Next Question

      To listen for the next question, you really must pay attention. At work, the next question is usually a series of who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. Most of the issues discussed at work will involve timeframes, money, personnel or vendors, and materials. The deeper you dig with your probing questions, the more thorough will be your understanding. Ask one more question; don’t assume all has been said.

      Using the next question tip with family and friends can change the whole relationship. The goal is to see how long you can keep the other person talking by continually asking the next question. This is not the same as nagging, nor is it a disguise for preaching. One mother learned how to do this so well she could keep her teenage son talking to her for 20 minutes!

      The next question comes from some word that was used or a reference that was made. Or perhaps it is a follow-up question from something you remember from a previous conversation. 

     Roger, the mechanic, brought your car back after working on it all day. After you ask all the relevant car questions and he gives you the run down on the repairs, he turns to walk out the door. Because you paid attention and remembered that he liked to hunt, you ask if he’s been deer hunting this year. Watch his body posture change! He turns around, grins, and says he is going to Texas on Thursday. The conversation could stop here, but because you are practicing the next question tip, you say “Texas?” And he spends a couple of minutes telling you how his friend has a hunting camp in Texas and invited him, his son, and grandson. There is a slight pause, and you ask the next question, “Deer? Or do you hunt something else?” He lists all the game at the 17,000-acre hunt camp and how fun it will be with his family there. Roger is so excited about hunting! You don’t hunt so you don’t personally share the excitement, but this conversation is about Roger, not about you. Roger is honored by your remembering that he is a hunter, and you took the time to show interest. You could have kept Roger talking even longer, but his partner has been waiting to drive them back to the shop. By the way, Roger says, “No charge.”

     Whether you are participating in a board meeting or family discussion, discourse is preferred.

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA

Owner, Florida CAM Schools

     Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA, guides managers, board members, and service providers in handling daily operations of their communities while dealing with different communication styles, difficult personalities, and conflict. Effective communication and efficient management are her goals. Since 1999 Betsy has educated thousands of managers, directors, and service providers. She is your trainer for life! Betsy is the author of Boardmanship, a columnist in the Florida Community Association Journal, and a former member of the Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers. Subscribe to CAM MattersTM at www.youtube.com/c/cammatters. For more information, contact Betsy@FloridaCAMSchools.com, call 352-326-8365, or visit www.FloridaCAMSchools.com.