Mistakes in Conversation
Speak up! You’ll hear me repeat it until I’m blue in the face.
Speak up! Say what you mean, ask for what you need, share what you believe.
Speak up! Mean what you say, use your own voice, do not censor or edit your message just to please others.
Speak up! Because speaking up is the only way to build real dialogue and bridge the gaps that divide us.
But remember, speaking up doesn’t work unless the person you are speaking to is actually willing to hear what you have to say. And by ‘hear what you have to say,’ I mean listen with the intent of understanding and connecting, rather than listening with the intent of poking holes in someone’s arguments.
If many of us struggle to speak up, many more struggle to actually listen up and hear one another.
If they suck, what’s the point in talking to them?
There’s little to no room for dialogue when across the divide we choose to vilify, minimize and dismiss people who think, feel and live differently.
How can I expect to engage in any kind of meaningful conversation with someone if I write them off as inferior or evil? And what makes me believe that anything can/will change if my assumptions are founded?
If I write off all men as power-hungry, insensitive, misogynists whose only concerns with women are their breast size and aptitude to serve, then how can I hope to change a world they still politically and economically dominate the conversation? If I dismiss all pro-lifers as small-minded, bigoted, anti-feminists whose priority is to preserve their religious edicts over my biological and personal rights, then as a pro-choice woman who actually believes in respectful dialogue as a solution, how can I respect the views and beliefs of women across the reproductive rights aisle?
Conversations > Debates
It’s hard to speak up, it’s even harder to listen.
Too often we think we’re having conversations when really we’re debating points of view (and unlike debates in school, there’s no winner). It’s a mistake to walk into a conversation with the intent to change someone’s point of view. It never works. It takes years to form a strong belief and many more years (not to mention a willingness to see things differently) to dismantle a belief.
A better solution is to enter a conversation with the intent to learn about another person, understand what makes them tick, what drives them, and what fuels their passion.
Listen to someone like that and they will feel heard. For many, this will be a unique and novel experience. Think about it, how many people (groups) feel disenfranchised, shut down, dismissed? What’s the one thing they are asking for? To be heard, to know that they are not alone. Really listen to someone and give them that experience, and you might just start to open doors and minds, and eventually build those bridges and create a path to something better, where we can work together along common values and live with each other where common grounds don’t exist.
5 things you can do to be a better listener
1. Listen to someone as if you had to repeat the conversation to a third person.
This forces you to pay attention to the words and the content and the intended meaning of someone’s speech. It’s a trick I learned in cognitive psychology class, and for anyone in school is the quickest way to retain information during a lecture.
2. Talk like a Wall, not like a DiGioia.
I’m Italian (DiGioia is my mother’s maiden name), French and, American. When I’m in a conversation with my non-American friends and family it’s a free for all. Everyone’s talking over everyone else. Sometimes three people are talking to each other at the same time. It’s wonderful, and messy and lively and engaging, and it works when everyone is playing by the same rules. But if your goal is to really listen to someone then I’d recommend you talk more like my Anglo-Saxon relatives. Conversations with the Wall side of the family looks and sounds very different. Those conversations have lots of pauses, people wait for each person to finish a thought before talking, and any kind of disruption is viewed as rude.
3. Ask questions and then ask some more.
Watch two people having a conversation and pay attention to the number of times someone asks a real question. A real question is non-rhetorical and non-confrontational. A real question is designed to gain more information or clarify a point. I’ll tell you now when it comes to involved or heated topics, it’s exceedingly rare. Most of us just throw facts or information at each other, and when we do ask questions, they’re designed to challenge not inquire. Try asking questions that are designed to learn more, understand better, and clarify someone’s point.
4. Don’t share
Now, this might seem a bit radical, yet it is incredibly effective. Try sitting with someone and make a commitment to leave the conversation without sharing your opinion. Clearly, I don’t advocate doing this all the time (after all, I want you to speak up), but it’s infinitely easier to listen to someone if you’re not waiting your turn to share, and instead, are fully committed to just hearing them out.
I had to add this to the list because so much of our communication is disrupted by our choice to create and give in to the noise in our lives. So consider putting your phone on silent (or better yet, put it away), if you’re on the phone turn off all screens, if you’re at work put your computer to sleep for the duration of a conversation, and try to make distraction-free time to talk to people. You might think you can listen and do something else, but you can’t. There’s a reason you would be furious if your therapist checked her phone, doodled, or updated her twitter feed during your sessions, it’s because you know there’s no way she could do that and give you her full attention.
I’d love to hear what you have to say in agreement or against this call to action. I’m willing to listen, if you’re ready to speak up, so share your views in the comments, and if you like this post and think speaking up and hearing each other out is important, please share it on your social networks. Want to learn more about speaking up, listening and bridging the gap? You can find me here, or YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. Choose your platform and let me know what you think in a comment.