The other day I came across this adage on Facebook:

Live without pretending.

Love without depending.

Listen without defending.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever seen. Each line of this little poem relates to effective communication and consensus building.

“Live without pretending.” To my mind, that doesn’t mean we drop all our inhibitions and social niceties. We still say “please” and “thank you.” We still wear our best clothes when we want to make a good impression. But it does mean that sincerity will get your further than phoniness.

The first example that popped into my mind relates to one of my favorite communication tools, the open question. One of its many uses is learning more about another person’s interests. What do they really want, and why do they want it? You’ll find people open up more, and you learn more, when you are sincerely curious about them. If you only pretend to be interested, many people will sense that and hold back.

“Love without depending.” If we can move beyond sincere curiosity to charitable love, that is caritas or compassion, not only for the other, but also for ourselves, we find it easier to understand their interests and craft win-win solutions to issues and even conflicts.

We are inspired to address the other person’s interests. But we don’t sit back and become dependent on them to discern and meet ours. Rather, we take responsibility for helping them understand what we need, without wheedling, nagging or guilt trips. The person who is not wheedled, nagged or guilt tripped is actually more likely to address our interests and to address them better. And if they can’t or won’t, we love and respect ourselves enough to find another way.

“Listen without defending.” This is my favorite of the three lines of the adage. Arguing, trouble-shooting others’ ideas, defending our own positions—all come so naturally, especially in hierarchical cultures. But if we listen to understand, not to evaluate the other’s ideas and pass positive or negative judgment on them, just to understand; if we stay focused on fully appreciating their ideas and needs; if we then let them know we understand by paraphrasing; we will often find that much less defending is called for.

The person who feels understood, listened to, tends to drop his own defensiveness and listen to us in turn.

The holiday season, with all its excitement and fun, but all it’s stresses and irritations, provides a great opportunity to practice these ways of living, loving and listening.

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