[Thanks to the wave of new followers, we’re re-publishing a few of the earlier favorite posts for the newcomers who may have missed them. Encore!]
Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” While there’s no doubt it takes courage to stand up for yourself or for a cause, all too often you can overlook the fact that shouting out your message doesn’t make you right. It just makes you loud.
If you truly believe in what you’re saying, you shouldn’t have to shove it down other people’s throats to get it across. Shouting, interrupting, or mocking someone who’s trying to state a different position raises far more red flags than confidence about your message. When what you have to say has merit, it should be able to take on the challenge of an opposing viewpoint and survive.
If you’re so furiously dominating the discussion–or fight–that the other side has no chance for their say on the matter, what are you so afraid of hearing? Are you not as secure in your conviction as the volume of your voice would suggest? Is there a chance the other side may have a point that you simply can’t counter? Are you operating from emotional angst that can’t be substantiated by the facts? Worse yet, might you actually believe on some level they’re right, but you’re too hurt or scared or in denial to give the truth a chance to be heard?
Dominating a discussion is not about the merit of your argument, so much as it is about you, personally. Your emotions, your desperation, your anger is what comes across, undermining your effort and ultimately drowning out your message. People may stay quiet and appear to agree, if only to end the exchange and get away from you, but you will have genuinely persuaded no one.
This is why listening takes courage. To sit down and listen, really listen, you’re exposing yourself to the possibility that you might not be as right, or righteous, as you think you are. Do you have the courage to face that risk? More often than not, disagreements, especially in relationships, can be traced back to a mutual misunderstanding, because you just haven’t really listened to each other. Strategically, listening to the opposition can actually make your position stronger by giving you a chance to understand why they believe what they believe and how it differs from you. Once you understand the foundation of their argument, you’re in a better position to point out the flaws in their logic or facts or agenda. Have you ever considered that by listening to the other side, you actually increase your chances of winning your cause? Having your say is only half way to your goal. Out thinking your opposition, not out shouting, is what prevails in the end.
We’re not talking about just giving lip service to listening. As the great American satirist Fran Lebowitz joked, “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.” Funny, but all too true a commentary on how little we hear. Listening is not about just holding your breath as you let the other person speak, while in your head you’re preparing the next thing you’re going to say the moment they take a breath and you jump back in to take over again. That’s not listening. You need to quiet your brain, relax your muscles and release the tension in your body and mind, so you can open your ears and really hear what is being said. It takes courage, because it makes you feel vulnerable. What might be at work is a nervous fear that by listening you are somehow surrendering. Even more threatening is the fact that listening to what others have to say is the only way you can ever truly convince yourself that what you have to say is just. You might ask yourself, what am I afraid I might learn?
The louder you are, the less you are heard. Stifling opposition is not winning. It’s the opposite of winning. It’s admitting your position is a house of cards that can be dismantled at the slightest opposing wind. By listening, you also risk having to understand, and with understanding comes obligation. You can’t be faulted for inaction when you don’t know any better, but once the issue is made clear, you have choice and all the accountability that comes with it.
Don’t Think Naked! To listen only to yourself is like getting dressed in the dark. Let the perspective of others shine a light on the principles, ideas, and beliefs you wear inside, so you can make choices that best fit your goals.