Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 15;   April 12, 2017: How to Listen to Someone Who's Dead Wrong

How to Listen to Someone Who's Dead Wrong

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Sometimes we must listen attentively to someone with whom we strongly disagree. The urge to interrupt can be overpowering. How can we maintain enough self-control to really listen?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, in 2016. Justice Ginsburg, known for wearing decorative collars with her robes, is also known for her wisdom about listening. She says that on her wedding day, her mother-in-law gave her some advice that reaches far beyond marriage: "Sometimes it pays to be a little deaf." Justice Ginsburg writes, "Anger, resentment, envy, and self-pity are wasteful reactions. They greatly drain one's time. They sap energy better devoted to productive endeavors. Of course it is important to be a good listener — to pay attention to teachers, coworkers, and spouses. But it also pays, sometimes, to be a little deaf. I still use the brand of earplugs my mother-in-law gave me." Read more in The Right Words at the Right Time, by Marlo Thomas (Atria Books, Reprint edition, 2004).

Photo by Steve Petteway, from the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Listening to someone spout opinions or "facts" we view as dead wrong can be frustrating, draining, and sometimes angrifying. Things can get so bad that we can barely resist interrupting. When this happens in situations that have no long-term impact, we can usually maintain enough self-control to keep quiet and let the spouter spout.

But self-control isn't so easy when there are serious consequences for projects and people we care about. At work, losing control can be damaging. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind for a little more self-control.

Maybe "dead wrong" is dead wrong
Even though you feel you know your partner's viewpoint, you might not actually know, or you might have misunderstood.
If you've discussed the issue in the past, remember: something might have changed since the two of you last spoke. Listen up.
Listen to both person and viewpoint
Some people focus entirely (or nearly so) on the viewpoint, ignoring the person expressing the viewpoint. Others focus on their objections to the person, and cannot hear the person's viewpoint.
Both person and viewpoint are important. In some situations, you can't appreciate one without the other.
Challenge your own views
Try to agree by changing your own views. Find something in what's being said that you almost agree with. Make it more agreeable by changing something in your own views.
Offer what you found to your partner. If your two views converge a little, opportunities for more convergence might come into view.
Wait to be asked
Your partner is more likely to listen to your views if you wait for your partner to ask for your views.
Ceding space and time to your partner gives him or her a chance to realize that you haven't been talking. That realization might create curiosity about your views.
You might want to be heard
In most People are more likely to
listen to you if they feel that
you've listened to them
knowledge-oriented workplaces, even when we can speak and express our views, we can't compel listeners to actually pay attention and take us seriously.
People are more likely to listen to you if they feel that you've listened to them. Listening is your chance to earn the right to be heard.
The more you know the better
Listening to your partner — really listening — is the only way to fully grasp your partner's viewpoint and understand why it matters to him or her.
To influence your partner, or anyone who holds you partner's viewpoint, begin by understanding your partner's viewpoint. You'll be far more effective if your first attempt to persuade is very solid than you would be if you must patch up your case after someone knocks a few holes in it.

Most important, when other people are present, one of them might be better able than you to move the conversation from conflict to consensus. Listening, and pausing, makes space for others. Go to top Top  Next issue: Naming Ideas  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

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