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April 2008
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How do you mean?
The Power of  Words

"How do you mean?" This quirky little sentence just might turn out to be one of the most valuable tools in your personal and professional toolbox.

There are so many great reasons to adopt this new phrase, none more important than gaining the ability to actively listen to others when they speak and share.

How does it make you feel when people ask you questions about your insights? The right questions can make you feel intelligent, important and valued. The wrong questions can make you feel foolish. That said, how would you like to have others feel?

In last month's eNewsletter, we discussed the power of words. Several word/phrase substitutions were offered and "How do you mean?" is one of my absolute favorites. It was suggested that this be a replacement for "What do you mean?" and below are several reasons for this recommendation.

What does it make you think/feel when someone asks, "What do you mean?" Can you picture the expression on their face? While their intention may be to gain clarity, it's easy for us to become defensive or feel less than intelligent. Perhaps, it makes us feel we're not communicating well. However you slice it, feelings of inferiority or defensiveness may result from this simple everyday question.

Would you like to gain clarity, without appearing less than intelligent, offensive, or like you may not have even been listening?

Often when you ask, "What do you mean," the other person (usually out of frustration) simply repeats what they just said! On the other hand, when you ask, "How do you mean," the other person will always find a new and different way to convey their point, insight or message.

When used properly*, you can expect the following results:
  • Gain clarity
  • Make the other person feel smart, important and valued
  • Let another feel "heard"
  • Become a great listener
  • Gain another's perspective
  • Clarify context
  • Show interest
  • Learn more
  • Demonstrate respect, patience and restraint
We're so quick, sometimes, to assume we know what another person means. Too often, though, others feel misunderstood. This implies that we're not really listening. People just want to be heard. Think of some of your favorite friends and family members - I'll bet they're great listeners.

Some of you may be saying, "How do you mean sounds unusual. I'd never say that." They didn't used to be my words either and they have become some of the most powerful words I have ever adopted. No one has ever looked at me sideways. I use this question almost daily and, without fail, the other person latches right on and elaborates, clarifies and/or paraphrases. Give it a try and you'll soon find yourself achieving many of the results listed above.

The next time someone tells you, "You're so great," try replying with "How do you mean?" ;-)

*Note:  According to a popular study**, words account for 7% of communication; the other 93% is a combination of voice tone and physiology (body language). Show genuine interest.


All the best!


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Steve Dorfman 
Steve Dorfman
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How do you Mean?
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