There is often a disconnect between our ability to listen and the necessity to agree.
Recently, I was involved in a debate at work about how we should approach a particular audience we were trying to reach. I listened carefully to my counterpart as she laid out her argument for direction A. When it was my turn to speak, I recommended that we take direction B, only to be accused of not listening.
I’m certain that I too have been guilty of being on the wrong side of that interaction at times. This happens far too often, because we can all struggle with distinguishing the idea that someone just isn’t listening from the possibility that they are listening attentively and simply don’t agree.
The “you’re not listening” accusation can be incredibly frustrating to hear, and is a close second on my list of top ways to ensure a communication breakdown (check out my short piece on the surefire way to kill a relationship for #1).
For this one, though, I have a simple 3-step solution to propose to ensure listening is valued as a skill.
Step 1: Set a timer for 5 minutes and let one person fully explain whatever they wish to communicate, while the other listens attentively (and, for a pro tip, even jots down some notes). Then, reset the timer and switch roles.
These sessions allow each side to fully communicate their viewpoint without interruption, without judgment, and without the need (or even ability) for the other person to respond.
Step 2: Leave it for a few days to allow both parties to reflect, and then assign homework. Each person has to summarize the other’s viewpoint and share it (I prefer this to be a written/bullet-point document, but it could also be a meeting similar to Step 1).
It is important to note that this is not an admission of any sort, and doesn’t signal agreement. It is simply an exercise to prove that each person’s point of view has been well received and that both parties understand the problem “diagnosis” as the other sees it.
Step 3: Reconvene and give each person 5 minutes to reconcile any gaps in understanding.
This should already lead to a more productive compromise, given the time gap to allow emotions to cool and the required attempt to put the opposing perspective into words. But in the event there is still a wide gap, a neutral moderator can be of use to objectively try to evaluate which person seems to more accurately capture the other’s argument.
Great listening is one of the most critical skills in the shortest supply in our world. Next time you face a conflict, give this simple process a try and see how your ability to listen effectively shoots up over time.