Acknowledgment versus agreement

On why active listening via positive feedback can be misinterpreted as agreement

I have recently discovered that I have a blind spot in my communication style, which as a leader is something that I take very seriously.

As an active listener, I tend to nod and smile when I listen to someone. In additional I will often slip in some verbal affirmations, such as “yes/sure/ok” inserted within natural pauses from the speaker to encourage them to complete their feedback. The intention is to demonstrate that I am giving the speaker full attention.

"There is a big difference between “yes, I understand you” versus “yes, I agree with you”"

However this can be misunderstood, something that became clear to me recently. There is a big difference between “yes, I understand you” versus “yes, I agree with you”. That is the difference between acknowledgment versus agreement.

Clarity in communication is vital, especially in a leadership role when someone is looking to you for a decision. They may think that you have agreed to their suggestion but you have not: you have simply acknowledged it.

It is vital to be explicit here, to verbally agree or disagree (or better still to capture it in an email afterwards), and to be self-conscious of our own communication habits that can be misinterpreted.

John Collins

I have been writing about web technology and software development since 2001. I am the developer of the Alpha Framework for PHP, and the five.today personal productivity app. I love open source, technology, and economics.

On handling escalations

Beware of wet paint smells