How Do You Get An Important and Challenging Partner to Listen

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RFL Two weeks ago: really examine yourself before you start correcting someone else.
RFL Last week: there is no reality, so “get” their reality. Their reality – their perceptions, recollections, evaluations — are completely independent of yours. Their view need not threaten you. Just GET IT and then many problems will go away.

Now: You really want, you really NEED to be heard. Because there is something that THEY are not getting. Your boss, kid, partner, co-worker, or staff member really doesn’t get you and what you see. You need them to get it. So, how? How do you get heard?

First, remember that there is no single reality and then you will be much less likely to convey the impression that you think you are right and they are wrong. You won’t send the message that they’re wrong or stupid or mean or immoral. Obviously, if you have “sought first to understand,” then you should have created a sense in them that they are understood and their viewpoint is accepted. There is a scientifically observable, deep human (animal) tendency towards reciprocity. If I am warm and friendly you will most naturally tend to reciprocate. Thus, if you have listened respectfully, they will naturally tend to do the same.

Now, if things have been tense with someone, then one great listening session where you really “get” them will not clear away all their defensiveness. So, it will take as much care in speaking — maybe more — as in listening. Here are the five essential practice points with which you will do no harm to yourself or to them; and these very likely allow you to get your message through:

(1) Don’t say anything, until you can honestly say to yourself that you are sharing your perspective to enlarge them, not diminish them. If your objective is to minimize, chastise, shame, win, get retribution, etc., don’t waste your time. This means checking in with your depths and being really honest with yourself. If you pass this test, then:
(2) Tell them that you have a viewpoint you would like to share that you think might be beneficial for them. NOT that you want to “tell” them something. Not that there is something you think they “need” to know; or “should” know. Simply that you would like to share something that you have observed, felt or thought. With these words, you are speaking in the first person; not for the whole team, or for “everyone” or “a lot of people.” Such collective language threatens in the most evolutionary way that every boy and girl experienced on the playground: nobody wants to get ganged up on. So, resist the need to bring others into the battle, and restrict yourself to what you have seen, observed or thought.
(3) Ask whether they are open; e.g., “can I share a perspective of mine with you?” “Is this a good time?” “Are you interested in hearing this perspective?”
(4) STOP now. Make sure you have their permission, that they have said yes. And if you don’t have permission, then ask if there’s a time you might offer your perspective. (Even if it’s your staff person or teenager, seek permission and respect their answer. There is great power in modeling a way of respect.) If you do have permission, then:
(5) Share your perspective with ONE objective, one outcome. To have them understand (not necessarily agree let alone apologize) your perspective. This takes a real yin-yang of strength yet suppleness. You have every right to be strong, because as we saw in the first point you are (or should only be) sharing this perspective because it will enlarge their view. You must know you are not attacking, not trying to diminish them (which can be hard, if they push back hard). You don’t need to get defensive, but you also don’t need to totally quit if you get resistance. Instead, you may have to soften, to be supple, in the non-verbals as you reiterate that you’re not trying to say you’re right and they’re wrong. Hopefully your softness keeps them from getting hard and defensive. Yet the suppleness is to remain strong out of your conviction that you’re sharing a perspective that might broaden their view.

Because you don’t need to be right, you can walk away no matter how they respond. Hopefully, they have gained a new perspective. (Or after you leave they might get it, when it’s safe to “admit” that you had a helpful perspective). At a minimum, you will do no harm — to them or you — if you keep your disciplined humility, speaking and listening in a way that demonstrates that you know you don’t have a corner on the market of knowledge and truth.

With such strength and suppleness, and humility,

You will lead with your best self.