“The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”—Ralph Nichols
Shaking his head, David grimaced as they cruised past a pan handler at the traffic light near the end of the highway exit ramp. “What is with these people? Why doesn’t he just get a job? Everyone is hiring these days!”
Nina glanced over as she tensely replied, “I always give a few dollars. How do you know what their situation is?”
“I know our tax dollars fund lots of agencies who can help, Nina!” David retorted. “How do I know this guy isn’t just scamming us?”
“I really don’t like when you assume the worst about people!” With each word, Nina’s voice got higher and tighter. “Would it hurt us to give a little? We never really know their situation, do we?”
David rolls his eyes and wonders how Nina can be so naive.
Nina sighs and questions how David can be so unsympathetic.
I’m not gonna say who’s wrong … but what if our process is?
Have you ever had a conversation like this that just goes South? I know I’ve had more than I care to remember!
We don’t see each other’s point of view because we are deeply entrenched in our own. Even a compromise can feel dissatisfying for both. There’s a whole lot of eye rolling and sighing going on everywhere, don’t you think?
And other times, you’re not even focused on the same issue. There’s back and forth sparring as you each insist on what the “real” point is. You know, the old “it’s not me, it’s YOU that doesn’t get it” clash.
It’s so distressing because we all want to be heard and understood.
Yet we actually can converse peaceably, even when we don’t agree … because
“It’s not about being right. It’s about getting it right.” — Elizabeth Spelke
3 Listening Tips
- Start with recognizing an impasse is forming
Certain things trigger each of us. And then we automatically revert to a defensive position. We don’t budge. We are consumed with the feelings that descend and the words we reflexively utter reflect this unexamined state of mind.
So when someone insists they are right … when their body braces and their voice rises … when they adamantly repeat their take on things— these are clues!
Stern body language and high emotion make for a toxic combination.
Time to back off.
Equally important: pay attention when these clues describe us!
Unless we’re in a dire situation requiring action, is it really worth escalating as we go round and round? Is anyone really listening to the other? Does anyone really relish that? What does that accomplish?
2. Next, gather more context
Adopt an attitude of curiosity. Are we sure we grasp what the other person is saying? Where is it coming from? What has been their experience? What additional intel would help us better understand their position?
Ask them to tell us more. “That’s interesting. Why do you think/feel/say that?”
Then—let’s stop talking. Start listening.
An open mind is comfortable with inviting a different perspective into a conversation.
3. Now, end with smile
This is the moment to let it go! If we didn’t come to an agreement, that’s fine. If there were mutual questions that enabled both of us to expound on our positions, ponder that.
Our final words? “Thanks for sharing.” or “I never thought/felt about it that way.”
And now? (brace yourself)
Let them have the last word (I know, I know, argh!). But consider this: it’s actually a power move on our part.
A well-time pause can speak volumes
Wow, what just happened here?
By paying attention to emotional and physical cues, we step back timely and focus on how they see things. When others are wrapped up in their own point of view, they are not poised to entertain ours—yet. Now politely give them the platform to provide their rationale thoughts (or irrational feelings). Whether we agree or not, let’s thank them for sharing. Let’s indicate they’ve given us something to ponder. And then? Let’s ponder it! That’s how we learn!
And now, imagine if David and Nina had followed this suggested 3-step process. Perhaps their conversation could have ended like this instead:
David winked at Nina and marveled at what a wonderful listener she was!
Nina smiled lovingly at David and thought,
“What an idiot he is!” NO, scratch that! She thought, “David always shares ideas that I hadn’t considered before!”
Hey, I’m just being realistic that we may still agree to disagree! But why fan the flame of division?
Sometimes things are better left unsaid, no?
After all, being more gentle with each other recognizes that
“We’re all rough drafts of the people we’re still becoming” —Bob Goff
The Wrap on How to Listen
As Dr. Joyce Brothers says, “Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”
Who doesn’t feel the world can be an incredibly noisy place? Particularly when it comes to social media, everyone is seeking attention. Hardly anyone seems to be listening … to be available to others. Maybe this is one of the reasons we find social media to be so exhausting.
And divisiveness only gets deeper when no one takes the time to listen to the other side. Yes, it can feel painful to hear a view that may be radically different from our own. But when we pay full attention, we can discern non-verbal clues about what seems to be important to someone else. It may very well be a shared value. But we won’t know unless we truly listen.
Multitasking is often the culprit when we aren’t fully present. Circle back here for a reminder to look up from your screen!
Or listen here for a powerful Tedx talk on listening!
What do you think? I'm listening!
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