I imagine all of us have experienced going into a meeting wherein at least one in attendance seemed determined to sell her/his idea to the group even if that required quieting other voices, opinions or thoughts. In fact that is just how they succeed … no listening, just selling. Such meetings often become a debate of positions wherein different views or approaches have turned into just arguments about opinions. However, the result, while confirming the decision that one voice wanted to accomplish, doesn’t often reflect what may have been the best decision for the organization
There is a true knack to listening … really listening. I don’t know of anything that has challenged our ability to listen … and hear … what others are saying more than the political arena in which we’ve all found ourselves for the past year. UNFORTUNATELY, many of these conversations with friends, co-workers or even strangers have turned into contentious debates that leave all involved at varying levels of frustration, anger and disappointment.
I read an article written by Benjamin Mathes relating his experience while sitting behind his sign offering ‘free listening’ while attending one of the recent party conventions. There was skepticism and hesitance however some did approach him to experience what he was giving away. He makes some excellent points that are worthy of serious consideration as we ponder how real listening can lead us to the best and most beneficial decisions and paths forward … even if we individually don’t ‘win’. His driving question is … “How do I listen to someone when I disagree with them?” He made the following points:
- We must work to hear the person not just the opinion:
“It takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience and courage to listen in the face of disagreement”
- We must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that result in that point of view
“Get their story, their biography and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement. Will you tell me your story? I’d really like to know how you came to this point of view.”
- The inclination is often to argue, to change one’s mind and to simply disagree as this is a natural response.
“Yet, if your personal story brought you to your beliefs, then you need to know the other’s story that brought them to theirs
Sometimes there is nothing to ‘disagree’ with. It’s not a matter of needing to be right. It’s often a matter of just being ‘there’ to hear and understand.”
Mathes suggests that ones’ “Facebook feeds is a place littered with articles, posts, and images from all types of people. For some, this is difficult to handle so we edit out the ones we disagree with until our feed looks more like an echo board of our own thoughts.” He cautions that “if we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way … editing out the ones we disagree with until we’re surrounded by people who are just like us. Then we get to wonder why we’re so divided.”
Can any aspect of business really tolerate this and succeed to the max? Does silencing differences of opinion, approach or beliefs benefit the organization? I think not. To the extent we “can hold space for paradox, tension and disagreement, there’s room for all types of beliefs and opinions” Mathes says. “Division is a choice … life isn’t a Facebook feed … our listening must bring in and not edit out. Dare to listen and to seek understanding. In the end it’s the people and not the opinions with whom we need to connect.”
November 8th will come and go. However, if we use the learning to help us improve the way in which we embrace varying opinions in the work we do, we then stand to be the true winners and enhance the success of the things we work hard to accomplish. Free Listening might be the ideal sign to post in your meeting rooms. It may actually receive a LOT of votes!