Saturday night we had a marvelous time taking part in a lively discussion in a friend’s living room with a half-dozen of his friends.
By the end of the night, they were our new friends, people whose insights and points of view we value. We look forward to getting to know them better.
Discussion is far too mild a word for the evening’s exchange. It was nothing short of conversational cacophony. A full-on orchestra of voices. Fortissimo. Vivace. Most of the time no fewer than four or five people were talking, sometimes all nine of us were eagerly sharing our own point of view. In their passion to reinforce their point, some people would stand, even jump up and down and wave their arms.
After the first 30 minutes or so, I doubt that any one person had the floor alone for more than 15 seconds. In short, there was so much talking that listening was difficult. Apparently, it was all the norm for the group. At the end of the evening, everyone was happy – although the wine and great food no doubt played a role in that – and eagerly making plans for the next get-together.
But, the kind of discussion we thoroughly enjoyed Saturday evening can be deadly any time the participants hold widely different points of view. When passionate viewpoints differ, the kind of discussion we experienced Saturday evening can easily degenerate into a shouting match. From there, some people are shut out, and others simply shut down. Instead of listening to diverse opinions and ideas with an intention to understand, each person attempts to outshout, outlast and over power the others. As though might makes right.
When everyone is broadcasting simultaneously, no one is communicating. Communication is the art of expressing your ideas in a way that they are heard and understood by another so as to increase understanding. Agreement may never be reached, but each person understands the viewpoints of all the others well enough to articulate them.
The next time you hear a diversity of opinions and recognize that rudeness has replaced respect, take a step back. Begin by insisting that each idea or person be heard. Then, paraphrase what you heard and ask questions to confirm you understood what was said. Continue paraphrasing the statements and seeking confirmation until the speaker agrees you understand. Repeat until each different point of view has been expressed and understood.
It takes courage to step up and play that role, but the group will value your ability as a leader to ensure fairness and equality and recognize that no matter the final outcome of the discussion, each person was treated with respect.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: What about you, do you find it difficult to restrain yourself from piling on in agreement or talking over others when their ideas differ from your own? When your own ideas have been shouted down, how have you felt? What did you do? What will you do next time?
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