A communication tip for leaders and for life: Take a Step Back

In this article, I want to share with you a communication technique that has made a positive difference to my life as a leader, team member, life-partner and a friend.

It’s a technique I’ve stumbled into over the years. I could keep it a secret, letting it gurgle away in the laboratories, waiting to patent it.

But, no! I have decided to share it with you!

Are you ready for it? Drum roll please!!

Take a step back

I call this communication technique, “Take a step back”.

First of all, let’s agree on what the word “communicate” means. According to Google, it is about sharing or exchanging new information or ideas.

In other words, communication is not about telling. It’s not ame activity”. Rather, it’s a “we activity”, so that we can share or exchange information or ideas. So that we can get on the same page.

You Can Choose to Step In, or to Take a Step Back…a Story

Some years ago, back in Australia, a team member and I had a meeting with a potential client. Let’s call the potential client Mr A.

After the meeting, Mr A said to me in private that he felt that I listened to him and gave him space to tell his story.  He described how my colleague had enthusiastically started to develop a solution before Mr A finished telling his story. He acknowledged my team member’s enthusiasm. However, he told me that he appreciated the space that I gave him even more.

“Wow,” I thought to myself. I like the concept of “giving space to grow our mutual understanding.”

Later, I met with my team member and started to give him Mr A’s feedback.

After listening briefly, he cut in and stepped into the conversation. He stopped listening to me, and defensively started to give reasons why he did what he did. This was a natural thing to do. I had done it many times in the past!

I told him, “Take a step back. Create a space for you to understand the feedback from Mr A. With this understanding, you can then decide on what you will do as a result. You may decide to do nothing. Or you may decide that the feedback makes sense – and you can choose to do things differently in the future. ”

We had a rich conversation about the value of taking a step back. We both walked away wiser and more self-aware.

The negative impacts of “Stepping In”

In the past, when someone came to me with an opinion that I didn’t quite agree with, I was very quick to express my different opinion. I stepped into the conversation. That was my default reaction!

The interaction often became a “battle of the opinions” – one person stepping in after the other, without trying to truly understand each other’s point of view.

It certainly did not create a comfortable nor safe space to create mutual understanding.

Or, I would constantly cut in when people spoke, because I assumed that I knew what they were saying. And, then, I would express my opinion.

As leaders, when this happens the risk is that our team members will say, “There is no point in expressing our opinions. The boss is always going to get his way. So I will just shut up and do my work”.

I believe that my behaviour of stepping in has led to this happening in the past.

The Benefits of Taking a Step Back

Since the feedback from Mr A, I have become conscious of taking a step back when people express their views or give me feedback.

In doing so, I develop a deeper connection to what the other person is seeking to communicate to me. And, I create a comfortable emotional space for the conversation to take place.

So, now, I see communication as a process where the other person feels listened to. There is no “right” and “wrong” opinions or points of view. They are just opinions and points of view.

Even if I hear something that does not quite sit right with me, I take a step back so that we can create that space of mutual understanding. Once we are comfortably in the space where we feel listened to, we can have a rational discussion around those issues.

Are You Up For the “Take A Step Back Challenge?”

You can read this article, or you can make a decision to apply the Take a step back technique.

So, here is the challenge.

Over the next 21 days, make a conscious effort to take a step back to create a space for mutual understanding in your conversations.

Be self-aware.

Rather than step into conversations by cutting in, coming to conclusions or expressing your opinions too early, take a step back to really understand what the other person is seeking to communicate.

By the 21st day, there is a good chance that you have formed a valuable, new habit for life!

Are you up for the challenge?

Say YES, and let me know how you are doing!

And, if you find the thoughts in this article of value, please feel free to share them with others.

Until next time.


George Aveling is the Australian-born CEO of TMI Malaysia (www.tmimalaysia.com.my), a global customer-experience transformation consultancy. He is CEO of two sister companies, TACK International Malaysia, a global leadership and sales training company, and Elementrix, a digital learning consultancy. TMI and TACK have offices in 45 countries of the world. Between these companies, there is an unparalleled range of intellectual property to improve individual, team and company performance. If you would like to contact George direct, feel free to email him at george@tmimalaysia.com 

2 thoughts on “A communication tip for leaders and for life: Take a Step Back

    • Thank you Eric. I believe that the concept of “taking a step back” provides both a metaphor and a label to help increase our self-awareness when we are communicating with others. I think that you a natural proponent of this technique!


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