“Close listening occurs when we’re fully engaged in the here and now”
I help people find ways to communicate their ideas and their strategic perspectives clearly, simply and persuasively. There are many important elements to making your points sound persuasive to another party, but the most important skill is perhaps the simplest one and the hardest to teach:
You know that feeling you get when you’re trying to get your point across, but you feel disregarded, contradicted, and maybe even insulted?
Sometimes it can make you so mad that you want to shout a witty insult just to get them to stop:
Well, consider for a moment that your audience might be feeling the same way.
No matter how frustrated you are with them, they are most likely equally frustrated with you.
In this way, you both become stuck.
When we get to these places with people, it can feel as though we are fighting for entirely different goals. This not only brings high tension and negative feelings, it can tend to invite a heuristic brain function called “illusion of asymmetric insight” (or the old, I-know-why-you’re-doing-this-because-I-see-right-through-you effect). The problem is that, unless you are actually on different sides of an issue (think Civil Rights), most likely you’re not that far off in what you’re trying to say or do. Most likely you both work for the same organization and want the same outcome.
(Call me paranoid, but I’m pretty sure these police aren’t there because they believe in integration)
When we think that we are in total opposition, our listening tends to become specific to this feeling that we’ve been wronged. When we feel wronged, we forget that we’re on the same side. We close our ears, our hearts and our minds.
Interrupt the cycle:
If you’re able to interrupt the illusion that you can interpret other people’s motives, and if you can stop (for a moment) trying to be heard, you have a chance to listen. If you’re able to be present and calm with your listening (which is different than simply waiting to talk), you might be surprised at what happens to your audience. They might completely change their stance.
We want to be heard.
I think this might be one of the most fundamental complaints of human beings. When we don’t feel heard, we feel misunderstood, disregarded and disrespected. When you take the time to really listen to someone, it’s like rain on a desert. Life will spring out of places that you thought were dried up and dead.
Bring the curiosity.
One of the mistakes that we make (again: the illusion of asymmetric insight) is that we know what drives people’s behaviors. That “knowing” blocks us from being curious about what they are actually saying and why. If you’re able to wipe away the assumption that you know, then you have a chance to be open and curious about what they are telling you.
Listening leads to trust.
The more I do this work, the more I have to recognize that trust is the key to our ability to collaborate successfully. When we feel heard, we feel connected. That connection (as long as we believe it comes from an open place) is the beginning of a trusting relationship. Listening opens up the possibility for more space.
Space helps people calm down.
Nobody likes to negotiate feeling backed up against a wall. The less space we feel we have, the more rigid and entrenched our ideas become. Listening intently to the other party, letting them speak their mind and be heard, allows them to mentally and physically settle down and think more clearly. The more curious and respectful you are as a listener, the greater the likelihood that your audience will suddenly be curious about your point.
Listening creates an opportunity to be heard.
It’s important to know that listening to someone gives you a chance to be heard, but it isn’t a guarantee. In my experience, if someone is activated fully, it might take them awhile to calm down fully. However, if you can put your listening skills into practice early, if you can stay present (meaning stay out of their head), and be curious, you just might have a chance to connect and build some real trust.
Besides, there’s also a pretty good chance that you might be persuaded by what you hear. Remember that by offering to really listen, you are also opening to the possibility that you might be altered in some way (and it’s probably an intrinsic fear about being changed that keeps us defended). Allow your opinions and your perspective to be challenged, and you will ultimately have a better understanding of why you believe what you believe.
All it takes to be heard, build trust and persuade is to open your heart, let go of your assumptions and listen with a sense of curiosity.
Try it and let me know what you find.