Listening to Understand

At the beginning of the year I started following a new political account on Instagram. Her name is Sharon McMahon, and she is a former government teacher who spends her days sharing the facts with her almost 600k followers. I’ve learned more from her in the past four months about government than I did in the previous 35 years of my life. But this post isn’t about government, politics, or even current events – it’s about a concept she keeps coming back to that we need more of in our lives.

Listening to Understand

I first learned about this from Judith Glaser, the brilliant mind behind Conversational IntelligenceĀ®. Listening to Understand is rooted in curiosity, a place of non-judgement, and connection. When we listen to understand we see the world from someone else’s perspective. What experiences are they bringing to the table? What else might they be incorporating into this concept? How might they see the world differently than I do?

There are a few positive consequences from listening to understand. The first is that the person we’re speaking to feels heard, seen, and known. This activates the connection hormone oxytocin and builds a bridge between us. Another is that we see a different side to the issue, story, situation.

You might be thinking, “Well I disagree with them, so why would I listen to understand when I have no intention of changing my belief. I know I have the truth on my side.”

I’d ask you to back up a few steps. First, are you sure you know everything there is to know about this issue, story, situation? Second, might hearing someone else’s story help you to relate to them better so that you can share this beautiful truth with them? Third, do you want to enter a conversation with someone who has that perspective?

Why do we need more of this? In my opinion, we’re talking over, around, and past one another. No one has ever been convinced to change their life after sharing part of their story and being told “Well, you’re wrong. That’s not the truth. It should be this.”

In the past few weeks I’ve been reading thousands of survey results. A common thread is that people seem to have one view of how church should be and no other perspective is okay. For instance, “Music should be in Latin, there is no other option” and from one of their neighbors “The music should be upbeat, no one comes to church to hear somber music.”

If both of these people come to the conversation set in their perspective without seeing any other options, will they ever be “brothers and sisters in the faith”? I don’t know how they could be.

There’s more to the story for each of them. Listening to understand helps us see that deeper story. There’s more going on than just a perspective on music, or masks, or homilies, or prayer styles, or Mass attendance. If we take time to listen to understand the other person, to literally stand under their perspective, maybe we can understand our own more, have empathy, connect with others, and build a community of people striving for holiness.

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