Yesterday American voters had the chance to elect or re-elect their public representatives and to voice their opinions about ballot issues. Yesterday, the American
people spoke their truth. Now it’s time for those elected to honor their promises to us. I’m not sure we know what those promises really are. I’m not sure that we really heard what all the candidates have said over the long campaign season. Worse, I’m not sure that those we have elected have heard what we really meant.
The truth is, it’s really hard to listen to others and hear what they mean. It’s far easier to perceive and interpret their words according to our own assumptions and biases.
“I know that you believe you understand what
you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise
that what you heard is not what I meant.”
~ Robert McCloskey
Has this ever happened to you? Someone asks you a question and you react to their words through the black veil of assumption that they were being critical of your actions or words? Or, you raise a question during a presentation by a colleague and receive a wrathful glare and scathing response designed to mute even the most confident among us? Your teen asks to stay out past curfew and you assume the worst possible motives and lash out? You call a customer service center to resolve an issue and the representative says, ‘it’s not my fault.’ Your spouse, or a friend, arrives late for an important event, and no matter the given reason, what you hear is, ‘you and this event are not important enough for me to be here on time.’
We’ve all been on either the receiving or giving end of scenarios such as these at one time or another. It’s impossible to avoid being on the receiving end. We can’t control what others do. But, with careful listening, we can avoid being on the giving end.
Where You Find Your Best Listening
I find I do my most careful listening when I stay focused on the other person, rather than thinking about what I’m going to say at the first possible opportunity. I try to take what is said at face value, without ascribing negative motives to the speaker. To help me, I maintain open and friendly body language, even when speaking by telephone. Doing so redirects my energy and attention to responding in a positive way. All of this prepares me to respond to statements or questions with a positive voice and keeps me focused on the topic.
While this works well to avoid misunderstandings, it works even better when I’m certain that the other person in fact is acting from negative motives. I’m convinced that remaining focused on the words that are actually stated and nothing else avoids potentially contentious issues and resolves without drama difficult situations.
I figure that when others speak, I need to listen. Agreement is optional. Engagement is discretionary. But listening is mandatory. And that is my Second Amendment: I will Listen to what others say.