Sunday, April 1, 2012

Listening (3 of 5)

Think of a time when you were exchanging perspectives with someone, and it was important to you to be “right” (that is, for your counterpart to accept your perspective as the better perspective). If you are like most of us, you were only thinking about what YOU had to SAY. You may have told yourself you were “listening”, but you were likely only listening selectively, waiting for them to say something you could attack. As soon as they said it, you either interrupted them, or began formulating what you were going to say as soon as they stopped talking.

This is the way MOST of us get through these discussions because we are not trained in how to conduct them and, because MOST of us do it that way, we think it is alright. It isn’t, and if you have been reading my articles, attending my presentations, taking my classes, or talking to me you already KNOW it isn’t alright. It is actually one of the big reasons your conversations fail to get the results you want.

You aren’t listening, your counterpart KNOWS it, and it justifies them not listening to you – so they don’t.  The conversation is hardly a conversation at all – it is like two televisions facing each other…two talking heads and NO communication. Since YOU are the one that wants to get the good result, YOU need to be the one to break the “not listening” cycle.

 When the other side is talking, clear your mind regarding what your perspective is (you already KNOW what you think, and you will get time to share it). Listen to THEIR side. If they are saying something you don’t understand (never mind about agreeing or disagreeing… only if you don’t understand), ask them what they mean.

 “When you say ‘the best way for us to control our expenses is by simplifying our needs’, what do you mean by that?”

No preconceived notions, no accusation, no predicting their answer, no judgments, and most of all NO COMPARISON to your position – just a simple question to help YOU understand where they are coming from. Your listening to them does NOT mean you are agreeing with them, it JUST means you want to know what they have to say. You’d be surprised at the number of people that say they NEED to interrupt their counterpart because listening to them after they say something you disagree with ‘feels’ like you are indicating agreement by being silent. The truth is that you are permitted (and responsible) to LISTEN to the other person fully before deciding if you agree, disagree, partially agree….whatever. IF you choose to interrupt, however, you are telling the person that their continuing to speak is unnecessary and unwanted. And that’s how they will feel and act. And we're back to two televisions.

Watch your counterpart’s eyes, hands, and mouth as you speak. They may begin to speak and then stop themselves – obviously they want to interrupt. They may “goldfish” (open and close their mouth without making a sound) – again, they want to interrupt. Usually a hand that touches the mouth (or look like they are going to touch their mouth) is a body language cue that indicates they want to interrupt but are stopping themselves. Their looking away as you speak may mean the same thing – or they may be giving you a cue to stop talking.

The best way to prevent them from being distracted while you talk is to give them your full attention while THEY talk. Likely, if they are a new acquaintance or you have not worked through a disagreement with them before, they may not initially recognize the need to reciprocate your good listening skills. I recommend that you take the initiative and tell them that “I think this exchange will get the best result if we treat it like that – like an exchange in which I listen to YOUR side and you listen to MINE….fully. Then once we feel we understand both sides, we can talk about the differences, OK?”

They likely feel (like most people do) that continuing to listen after you say something with which they disagree is like agreeing. If they behave that way, tell them that you recognize that this a disagreement; that is you both have different opinions on the topic and that in order to resolve it you both need to understand what the differences are.

There is some old advice that says “Don’t ever argue with a fanatic” and I have come to believe that in most cases that is a good policy. My test for a fanatic is to ask “is there ANYTHING I could say, or is there ANY information that you could hear from ANY source, that would tell you that there is a possibility that a perspective exists on this subject besides yours that might be valid?” If the person says no, then I usually choose to end the discussion. In many cases, I find that my time is best spent discussing the situation with people that CAN accept alternate perspectives on the subject AND that have influence on my counterpart. Usually, once they see a couple of people whom they consider respectable or powerful adopt a new perspective, they either “see the light” or figure “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.

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