Conscious Listening

Conscious Listening

Are you done?  It’s my turn to talk.

All too often that is the ‘conversation’ that takes place when even the most committed of couples have a conflict that puts them at odds with each other.

When lacking an open mind toward those with whom we disagree, there is a tendency to double down when confronted by an opposing argument, raising the volume rather than hearing out the dissenting assertion and considering its validity.  Thinking you have delivered a communication that is crystal clear to you but seemingly ignored by the other party is one of the major causes of frustration.  Exasperated by the deaf ears the inclination is to talk louder, and louder still.  But even the highest volume shouting won’t be heard when the other person is simply waiting to take his or her turn to ramp up the amps.

Competing for time on the soapbox, that is when disagreement becomes disagreeable.

To have a well-founded argument you must first have a thorough understanding of the opposing line of reasoning with which you take issue.  You must listen carefully.  You must respect the person you’re arguing with as a counterweight rather than an enemy, leaving space for a benefit of doubt and allowing at least a smidgeon of possibility that you might be persuaded to alter your position.  Otherwise, why bother to engage?

A disagreement in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Quite the contrary; it can lead to mutual respect, admiration for novel ideas and when building on each other’s line of reasoning rather than tearing them down, a chance for a seminal moment when two and two make five.

But it starts with conscious listening.  Rather than responding to another’s argument with an immediate rebuke and rebuttal, be alert to any emotional charge that might be present and take time to listen and fully understand.  There’s an actual strategy to listening regardless of the intensity of the disagreement.  Instead of screaming, “I’m right and you’re wrong” here’s how conscious listening may temper the furor.

As simplistic as it may seem, ‘mirroring’ what the other person says makes for clarity (What I heard you say is).  Assuring the other person that he/she has been heard accurately, validates him/her and verifies your understanding of their position.  Understanding – distinct from agreement – is a sign of empathy for the speaker and ensures that the debate doesn’t turn into a personal attack, the crucial prerequisite of civilized disagreement.

Having been listened to without the disdain that sets tempers soaring, there’s no need for the person on the other side of the table to be defensive and the goodwill can be returned without ceding a loss of ground. Now it is your turn to talk and to be heard.

With the process repeated, Mirroring, Validating and Empathizing, there is at least a possibility for positions to be changed, and if not that, at least the acknowledgement that we agree to disagree in harmony.


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Howard Englander

Howard is the author of “Cheating Death: How to Add Years of Joy and Meaning to Life,” an inspiring series of essays that describe how reframing his attitude toward growing older – the inevitable losses in physicality and social influence – added personal fulfillment to his senior years. The book is available at the web site.
He is the co-author of The In-Sourcing Handbook: Where and How to Find the Happiness You Deserve, a practical guide and instruction manual offering hands-on exercises to help guide readers to experience the transformative shift from simply tolerating life to celebrating life.
Fiction includes “73,” a collection of short stories exposing the social-media culture that regards people in their seventies as if they were old cars ready for the junk heap. The stories are about men and women running the gamut of emotions as they struggle to resist becoming irrelevant in a youth-oriented society.

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