Many of the principles of persuasion and consensus building are counterintuitive, perhaps none more so than the value of listening. When we disagree with someone, our knee-jerk reaction is to go into defense mode, don our mental boxing gloves and prepare our arguments. In fact, however, the most persuasive people listen more than they speak. When they do speak, they ask questions more than they make statements. They get more of what they seek from others.

The key to reaching a meeting of the minds is to understand the other person’s perspective, their concerns, their interests. The more you know about the other person’s point of view, the more likely you are to find a concern that you can address in a way that also works toward your own interests. That’s the first step toward a meeting of the minds.

One may experience an element of fear. You fear that you might find that the other person has a legitimate point to make, a point that differs from what you believe. OMG, if the other person is right, then I am wrong, they can take advantage of me, they can make me lose. But not if you also stay aware of your own concerns, while remaining open to the idea that there can be more than one way to address them.

Here’s a simple example I adapted from the Harvard Negotiation Project

Tom and Jerry are sitting in a library near a window. Tom gets up and raises the window, then returns to his seat. Jerry gets up and closes the window. They begin to haggle. Tom says the window must be open at least 18 inches. Jerry insists that it can only be open 3 inches.

They are heading toward a lukewarm compromise of 10 inches, when all their commotion attracts the librarian. She asks Tom why he wants the window open. Tom replies that the air is stuffy. The librarian asks Jerry why he wants the window closed. Answer: because when it’s open, he feels a cold draft. The librarian listens carefully and reflects on the answers. Then she checks to be sure she understands both Tom’s and Jerry’s concerns.

Librarian, “So, Tom, you want some fresh air, is that correct?”

Tom, “Yes.”

Librarian, “And, Jerry, you want warm air, right?”

Jerry, “Not exactly. I just don’t like the cold draft blowing directly on me.”

Librarian, “You want still air?”

Jerry, “correct.”

The librarian reflects some more then says: “Around the corner there’s an aisle at right angles to this one, and no seats. Let’s try opening a window on that aisle, OK?”

Jerry, “I’m willing to try it.”

Tom, “OK.”

The librarian mediated between Tom and Jerry. However, they could have settled the disagreement themselves if either one of them had asked the other why he wanted the window in the position he wanted it, reflected on the answers, and actively sought a way to satisfy both their concerns.

In honor of women’s history month, I offer some quotations from women who understood the beauty of listening:

“The only listening that counts is that of the talker who alternatively absorbs and expresses ideas.” Agnes Repplier

“It seemed rather incongruous that in a society of super sophisticated communication, we often suffer from a shortage of listeners.” Erma Bombeck

“With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing.” Catherine de Hueck Doherty

Before you go to bed tonight, plan a way to ask someone about their concerns tomorrow. Let us know you how it works out, preferably using the comment form below.

Please help me grow

All feedback, comments and questions help me. They don’t have to be favorable. I truly welcome the good, the bad, and the indifferent. I do listen (or read) and reflect on them. I often make changes or additions based on feedback.

The gold medalists of the Blog-olympics are comments made using the comment space at the end of each blog post. There’s a synergy at work.

With the publication of my third book fast approaching, I am eager to gain more blog followers. I can, then, let more people know when the book is live on Amazon.

Blog comments show visitors to the blog that people are reading my work. This encourages those visitors to read and even subscribe to the blog. It’s sort of like driving around a strange town looking for a place to eat. If you see other cars in a parking lot, that suggests that the locals know the food is good. So you go in and try it out.

When people are browsing blogs, they are more likely to read those with comments. Some even read the comments first and then decide whether to read the blog post itself.

There are actually people who blog about blogs, and they are attracted to those blogs that receive comments.

Feeling Shy?

If you don’t like the idea of blog comments, it would help me tremendously if you let me know, privately, what it is that puts you off. Such feedback might enable me to make the process more appealing or user-friendly. Many of you have my direct email address or phone numbers. Others can email me via the contact page of my website, and if you like, we can schedule a phone call. Or you can message me on FaceTime or LinkedIn.

By the way, the only reason my website contact page asks you for an email address is so that I can reply. But I will not use your email address for any other purpose or share it with others.

Many, many thanks in advance.