Truly listening to a perspective that you strongly disagree with can be difficult.
I’m referring to listening that goes beyond debating the merits of each person’s perspective. Listening that doesn’t judge the person for holding a point of view that may be based on values that are drastically different than your own.
I mean listening to understand, rather than listening to convince someone to change their mind.
Let’s take the debate around masks or vaccines, for example. How many arguments have you witnessed (or even taken part in) where the sole goal was to get the other person to hear your side of the story? Perhaps even with the desire that, at the end of the day, the other person might finally understand why your perspective is the one that actually makes the most sense.
When we can learn how to listen in a way that goes beyond the surface of what is being communicated, when we can stay truly present during uncomfortable conversations, this is where the true magic happens.
Being able to respect someone else’s opinion, even when it’s drastically different than your own is a crucial skill at work and in life. It’s even more crucial when you’re in a management or leadership role. All too often, when people disagree, communication shuts down altogether. Which only pushes the conflict underground.
More often than not, what goes unsaid and unheard will simply resurface again at a later date – often in a more intensified manner. This ends up costing organizations massive amounts of money in lost productivity that mostly goes unmeasured because it’s never actually traced back to the root cause.
Noticing that moment when you slip into arguing or debating points of view instead of seeking to understand allows you to make different decisions around how you will engage, which will help to shift these patterns.
Signs to watch out for:
1. You’re focusing more on what you want to say than what the other person is sharing.
2. You’re thinking of all of the reasons why the other person is wrong as you listen to them explain their point of view.
3. The conversation revolves around each of you sharing arguments about why you are each respectively right.
4. No one is truly acknowledging what the other person says, or that there is an understanding of why they may hold the perspective they do. Note that you can communicate that you understand why someone holds the views they do without communicating that you share their views.
5. Once information has been shared, few questions are being asked by either party. Questions allow you to delve deeper into trying to understand why the other person believes what they do. Note that this absolutely MUST come from a place of open-minded curiosity rather than judgment. If questions are being asked solely to prove that you’re in the right, the person will likely pick up on it and will likely not share what you need to know to understand their perspective.
6. You feel defensive.
7. You notice that the other person seems to be responding defensively.
Working to shift your patterns
The first step in being able to shift from trying to prove your point to seeking to understand is to notice when you’ve fallen into this reactive mode of communication. Focusing on noticing the signs to watch out for above will help.
From there, it’s about making a decision to engage differently, as soon as you notice that what is happening is not working.
This may seem useless when engaging with someone who is also simply arguing their own point of view. But by changing your role in the dynamic, the other person will also often shift. They will often become less defensive themselves and more open to listening to what you have to say.
You can choose to be the person who steers difficult interactions in a more productive direction.
Here are a few suggestions that can help you get there:
- Let go of the need to be right. You are entitled to your own point of view whether or not anyone else agrees with you.
- Start looking for the shades of grey. All too often, differences of opinion are viewed in terms of one person being right and the other person being wrong. When we shift perspective to seeking to understand, we can almost always uncover the shades of grey. We discover the areas of commonality in what seem to be opposing views. We start to recognize that differing views are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
- Recognize that letting go of an opinion that was once held tightly doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It’s means that you’re willing to grow.
- Put any agenda you might have in terms of behavioural changes the other person will adopt on the back burner. People do not follow the lead of people they don’t trust. We trust people who accept us for who we are. Focus on building trust first.
- Recognize that although you can potentially influence others’ decisions and behaviours, you have no control over the choices that other people make. Even if you wish you did. Avoid overstepping.
- What you do have control over is the boundaries you set in your own life. Ask yourself if you’re possibly avoiding verbalizing something that you need to because it makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Use your body cues as a sign to indicate when you may need to take a step back and settle yourself first before engaging in the discussion any further.
Conversations, where opinions are heatedly debated without any true resolution, are a massive source of frustration in the workplace.
You can be the first person who starts to adopt a new way of engaging in these discussions. By refining your ability to listen deeply, you can guide your team towards identifying and solving problems, rather than simply debating differences of opinion for what can seem like years on end.
By doing so, you’ll also model these skills to your team members, who will slowly learn how to engage differently in conversations where there are differences of opinion, simply by following your lead.
And if you feel that you could benefit from some additional support as you work to adopt these new skills, book a complimentary 30-minute discovery call with me. Together, we’ll develop a plan to enhance your leadership communication skills to help you become the leader everyone wants to follow.
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