Submitted by Shawn Durr on September 7, 2023 - 14:28

Good Communication Requires Discernment

Earlier in my career, I taught an interpersonal communication class at a university in northern Illinois. At the end of a lesson on active listening, I asked students to share a key take-away from the lesson. One student vigorously raised his hand and said, “Oh, oh, Ms. Caribeaux, I learned that it is important to think before you speak.” I was struck by the conviction with which he made that simple statement but appreciated this profound insight.  

When beginning a conversation with a prospective collaboration partner or any strategic partner, planning or thinking about what you want to say and the listening frame you want to adopt is critical to success.

Before you have this important conversation consider the following:  

  • Know what your goals are for your strategic partnership. At the domestic violence agency I led, I knew we needed to find a partner that would expand our services beyond supporting the immediate crisis. This meant that our referral sources were likely partners. We wanted to partner with organizations that could expand our current service offerings and bring them seamlessly under one roof. This goal clarity helped me target who I would talk with. 

  • Identify those potential partners you trust the most. Trust is a key characteristic of a successful strategic partnership. When I looked at the list of organizations we referred to, I started with the Executive Directors I most trusted. 

  • Create an environment for a supportive conversation. I was already in the habit of regularly getting together with colleagues to have conversations about trends, strategies, and common business challenges. It made it natural then for me to call the Executive Director of our top referral source and ask her out for breakfast to talk about a potential strategic partnership.  

  • Manage your emotions. I will admit I was nervous broaching this subject with her. I was concerned that she might perceive my motives to partner as driven by financial difficulties rather than the genuine intention of capacity building. When I felt anxiety creep in, I paused and breathed through it. Anxiety is the foe of deep listening. 

  • Set a listening intention. I was thoughtful about how I wanted this conversation to go. I wanted to share my organization’s challenges, strategic vision and goals, and how a partnership could successfully address those challenges. My listening intention was to gauge her interest and alignment. I paid attention to not only what she said in response but how she said it. Deep listening requires that you listen with your ears, eyes, and heart.  

Starting this kind of conversation requires courage and planning – to think before you speak.