You and your partner are locked in verbal battle. No matter how you express it, they don’t seem to get it. Instead they seem to be waiting for the last word to come out of your mouth so that they can jump in with their counterpoint. It pisses you off. You aren’t able to make them listen to reason. The next day you head to work and try to explain a problem that you and a colleague are dealing with. You’ve got a solution and you explain it to your colleague. But instead of accepting your wisdom, they argue with you. You push your point and feelings get hurt and awkwardness ensues.
Both of these situations can happen to the best of us. One of the principal challenges that they both have in common isn’t the lack of articulation, but our gap as listeners. A year ago I had the opportunity to learn from Robert Gass during a powerful retreat called the Art of Leadership. Gass covered a variety of topics and one particular topic that stuck with me was the practice of deep listening in helping enhance dialogue. Below is a round-up Gass’s top listening practices:
Stay present and focus on what your partner is saying.
It is very easy to jump ahead to what we want to say. But if you take a breadth and purposefully focus on what the person is saying you might get to the root of what’s causing the issue much more quickly. This can be tough because often you’ll find yourself triggered by things they say – especially if you think they’re outright wrong. But hold it together and intentionally go back to their words. Resist the impulse to think ahead to their response, stay quiet and let the silence breathe. I know – it’s really hard right?
Listen with curiosity and openness to learning.
Remember the befuddled and wondering way a two year old looks up at you when you say the sky is red and the tooth fairy is going to bring them a tooth? Try to channel a little of that. Being curious (authentically as opposed to cynically) about where they are coming from is a much better way to engage in a conversation.
Don’t interrupt and pause when responding to relax the flow of conversation.
This can be tricky – especially when you are hearing something you believe to be flat out wrong. Resist the urge to jump in there and channel that zen monk we all wish we were at times. Pausing and, like I mentioned before, letting the silence breathe helps the conversation evolve while honouring your partner’s feelings, too.
Try to communicate your understanding of what the other has said before you state your point of view.
This part is key for active listeners and is helped when you pause and give and consciously give some thought to what you just heard. The very fact of even appearing to listen and comprehend a person’s perspective can be cathartic for them. Once you wrap your head around their point, try repeating it back to them. This can be easier said than done. Often when I’ve done this, I’ve learned I totally missed the crux of their issue and wasn’t affirming their perspective. That’s instructive for me and validating for them.
Find common ground and validate it so you can agree with the other’s experience.
You might not agree on everything, but odds are there are a few things you share common ground around. Start with those. Outline how you both share a similar goal, idea, reasoning or thinking around the issue. Get their agreement and then start building from there.