A couple of quotes that I’ve saved seem to go together to make a good point about listening.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Stephen Covey)
“The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.” (Keanu Reeves)
Today’s politicians in both major parties seem to have gone beyond Covey’s observation. They not only are not listening to each other’s point of view or concerns but are also not waiting to reply. They are just trying to shout each other down.
The seemingly lost art of compromise requires that both sides listen and try to understand the differences that exist and then try to find a way to satisfy at least some of the concerns of the other side. One must first listen and then try to understand before replying or working towards a compromise.
Covey’s point in particular points out the issue that ego brings into the picture. It starts with the thought “I am right, and I need for you to see and admit that”. That is the impetus behind the intent to reply. If we start instead from the position “I hadn’t considered that point of view before, let me think about that”, it might allow us to have a civil discourse that could lead to compromise.
If your immediate reaction is “Why should I consider the other persons point of view? It is obviously wrong”; then stop and realize that you are a part of the problem and not the solution. Take Reeves advice and pay attention, not to reply but in order to understand.
Some points of view that you may encounter are so alien to your own way of thinking that it is easy to dismiss them as crackpot or too extreme. The task then is not so much to understand the point of view (that may be impossible) but, rather, to understand what is motivating or driving that point of view.
If you pay attention, you may find that fear is the key driver in many, if not all, very extreme points of view. Fear of loss of power, money or control. Fear of the unknown or misunderstood. Fear drives bigotry. Fear drives homophobia. Fear drives misogyny. Fear drives misinformation and conspiracy theories. The anger that you may encounter is just a reaction to those fears.
Trying to understand what the person with whom you are talking is afraid of changes the dynamics of the conversation and allows a path to compromise by allaying those fears. If one starts from the position of “what would it take to lessen your fears and make you more comfortable with this situation or person?”, you are at least on the path towards compromise. You can find that path if you pay attention and listen to understand rather than to reply.
Some of the best listeners that I’ve encountered also make the best conversationists. Conversations with them are satisfying and rewarding because they listen and explore your comments with questions or remarks that bring out more from you. They seem to be more interested in what you will say next than in what they will say next. Somehow that makes what they will say next all the more interesting.
So, take the advice of our quotes today and pay attention. Listen not to reply but to understand. Reply with a question, not a retort. Consider that there may be alternatives to your current point of view. Understand the underlying fears that may be motivating the other person. Look for the path to a possible compromise.
Stop and listen first.