The Value of Listening to Someone Who Won't

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The Value of Listening to Someone Who Won't

Recently during a conversation with an extremely poor listener, I was called upon to test my belief that there is opportunity in every unpleasant situation and that by focusing on thankfulness we can see and make the most of that opportunity. With this philosophy of thankfulness, and through being mindful of any annoyance or other unpleasant feelings when we are not thankful, unpleasantness just becomes an opportunity to gain some insight that allows us to make the most of the opportunity in front of us and to detach completely from that unpleasantness.

Most of the ideas that give me pleasure to think up are quite abstract. And at the same time I'm a man of action who likes to put ideas into practice. This often requires selling people who are the gatekeepers to the current system. Convincing people who are not equipped with the listening skills or ability to focus required digesting complex ideas can be decidedly unpleasant. And unfortunately, right then as I pulled my hair out struggling to establish an understanding with that poor listener, I was not in the mood for any insight that might come from embracing the unpleasantness of it all. I was not in the mood for eating my vegetables. And I was not in the mood for anything else that might be good for me.

But convincing people is just something you either have to succeed at or find a way around. There I was trying to convince someone whose glass was already full and could not be further filled. Rather than take the time to digest what I was saying, they talked endlessly. I was getting slowly more annoyed as I listened. I had difficulty even getting the person to pause to allow me to answer each question they asked before they lost track and asked another unrelated one. "How" I asked myself "could I detach from this feeling of annoyance and turn this into a positive and insightful experience?" And I knew that although the person was a poor listener they did have a good heart and good intentions. They did want to participate in creating a solution to the problem we were trying to solve.

At first I tried a proven tactic with most poor listeners; I repeated what they said for confirmation in order to use that agreement to lead them to a new understanding. But with extremely poor listeners even this doesn't work because they disagree with their own words when they hear them back, even when they are repeated without any interpretation that might be contentious. After some time however, I was finally able to get through. One trick is that when people talk enough, and you keep asking them thoughtful questions, they eventually exhaust themselves and become more inclined to listen, if nothing else from simply running out of air. But the most important breakthrough was actually making use of their long-windedness. While interrupting a good listener where they are going off track may be the most time efficient way of communicating a point, and in a time-pressed world may lead to the highest success rate in getting the point across, this simply doesn't work with a poor listener. They will simply tune out if the discussion is not about exactly what they want to speak about at that moment. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, rather than speaking in those cases, the most powerful weapon is to listen. Be thankful that even though they don't listen, they are inclined to speak rather than remaining silent. Because the secret is that if you listen long enough, you will eventually learn what argument they will understand.

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