In an earlier post, I talked about techniques in becoming a good listener: Listening Orientation, Empathy, Acceptance, Congruence, Concreteness, and Reflecting.
I want to talk a little more about acceptance, the unconditional respect for a person for simply being a person without expressing agreement or disagreement.
In movie making there is a concept called suspension of disbelief. In normal life, we view everything with a skeptical eye, it either makes sense or it doesn’t. Of course some things are real. The color of the sky, the texture of a table, a stomachache. In a movie, by its very nature, the filmmakers are asking the audience to suspend its natural disbelief. For two hours, you don’t doubt that Harry Potter and his buddies can actually fly through an alternate universe on a mythical beast. Would you accept that scene anywhere else but in a movie theater or your dreams? No. Why do you believe it in the movie theater or better, why don’t you “disbelieve it” as you typically would. Because when you enter a movie theater, you’re prepared to suspend your disbelief. It’s automatic. You know it’s a movie but it seems real. You believe it for that two hours, your heart races, you have feelings about the characters yet, when you walk out of the movie and someone says, “What’s going on?” you don’t say “I was just flying on a winged beast with Harry Potter and some other friends.”
As a good listener, we have to do the same thing. No matter how much we agree or disagree with someone, we must suspend our natural inclination to question their logic and to try to understand their logic and their thinking. A good listener puts away his or her natural skepticism and enters the head of the other person. We don’t do it so that we can finally be won over to their way of thinking. That’s not necessary. We do it only to find a way to engage them on their home turf.
One way to put yourself in a good listening perspective is to think of conversation like watching an outrageous science fiction movie. I was at a party awhile back and we were talking about dogs and how human they seem. A woman at the party, an artist, described how her dog almost talks to her, whining and howling, as if he is trying to say something. She hypothesized that one day, dogs would actually learn to speak. First off, between you and me, that’s one of the crazier things I’ve ever heard. Dogs are not ever going to learn to speak in our or our children’s or our grandchildren’s lifetime. A little farfetched? Do ya think?! And even in the evolutionary time line, probably not very likely. But, this was her quaint little theory.
Remembering my listening skills, I began to ask questions about her dog, about her theory, about when she thought this might happen. I actually wasn’t even thinking about how crazy this whole thing was, but I was listening to this woman talk. And I found out something very interesting. She was really only expressing the love she had for her dog and the connection she felt with him. As I listened more, I realized she didn’t actually think dogs would ever learn to speak but she did think that humans would become more and more able to understand animals and how they felt. I don’t see that idea as crazy at all. In fact, I agree with her! But she probably had never said these words out loud before and in her emotional mind, it came out as “one day dogs will learn to speak.” She was really a very nice woman and I liked her a lot from hearing about the love she felt for her dog.
My instinct in the beginning was to say, “You’re crazy. Could you go and talk to someone else?” But as I listened and tried to understand her from her point of view, I came to understand this person and to connect with her and we both enjoyed the experience.
What would I or she have gained if I had disputed her reasoning? A small ego victory, perhaps, that I told her how illogical she was? But it wouldn’t have been a victory because her logic made perfect sense to her. I would have gained nothing. And what did I gain by playing it the way that I did? I made a friend and I saw the world from a slightly different perspective. It was a win-win.
By the way, dogs will never speak, trust me.