Please consider …

Imagine you have just said something to me that you feel deeply passionate about and that is quite important to you. As I have been trained, or as many cultural surroundings teach us, I listen intently for what I find lacking in your reasoning. Are your data insufficient? Is there a chink in your argument that I can pinpoint? I listen for your logic, so that I may fire back with an even stronger point of view that contradicts it.

My first response to you is, “Well, I disagree.” How do you feel? Defensive? Angry? Notice what happens to you physically. Feel the tension in your body? Sense your eyes narrowing and your heartbeat increasing? Sadly, what we know is that by my stating immediately my disagreement with you, I have driven you into a corner. I have made you hold on to your position even more tightly.

To be clear, I am not saying one must always agree with everyone. Rather, before we express disagreement, we need to acknowledge the other person’s point of view. Acknowledgement does not imply agreement. It implies that I am curious about you. It implies that I understand that your life experience is different from mine. It implies that I care enough about you as a friend, neighbor, colleague and more to try and see and understand how you think about the world and to let you know that you have a right to your opinion.

My acknowledging your perspective demonstrates that I am listening differently. I am listening first and foremost to understand what is important to you. My focus is on you, not on myself. I am curious about you. I am listening to build the relationship. I am listening to learn, not to refute. I am listening for understanding.

As I many times said to clients, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, we must remember that people are not intentionally unintelligent. They say things we may find outlandish but are meaningful to them. Only in acknowledging that we understand their perspective might they then open up to consider an alternative idea. Until they feel heard, they will remain in the corner we have painted them into. Perhaps we ourselves will also change the way we are thinking if we listen, and are listened to, in such a different way.

As we begin to listen together with curiosity, with an intention to strengthen relationships across our community and with a desire to build a more successful future together, I myself first need to acknowledge that I cannot change you. I can only change my behavior in how I interact with you – and that in turn might change the way you interact with me.

Secondly, what I know about changing behavior is that I can change the way I think, and that will change the way I act. Or I can change the way I act, and that will change the way I think.

The latter – the action – is an easier place to start. I can change the way I listen.

I can start by being quiet and focusing on you without interruption, give you my full attention by facing you directly and avoiding distractions (e.g., cellphones). Then, instead of my usual making a statement to challenge what you have just said, I can ask you a question to clarify further, a question to deepen my understanding, a question to explore your perspective in a nonjudgmental way. I can restate what I believe you are saying, so that you can confirm back to me that I have your point of view correct and that I have then acknowledged what you actually think. I have been listening to learn, not refute. I have been listening to build up, not tear down. I have been listening for understanding.

And perhaps you will offer me the same courtesy?

Please consider …

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