Listen, consider, respond: repeat as often as necessary
FTLComm - Tisdale - Tuesday, August 28, 2007

There are successful working strategies and there are totally unsuccessful ones, let's ignore the mistakes and concentrate on what will make things better, and better and better. Though these comments are meant to apply to work and the general interactions we have with people it also really applies in a close relationship. Where ever we have to interact with one another, there are some basic rules that will almost always establish a successful conclusion.

Though it seems so obvious that listening is one of the most important parts of our interaction with each other, it is one of the toughest skills to learn and practice. First of all, listening passively is pretty much a waste of time. To be an effective listener, you really have to be an active listener. You need to question and clarify orally, or non-verbally, so that you really understand what is being said.

The second component is considering what you have heard and this is also a difficult skill because most of us devote so little time to thinking about the communicative process and leap to a reactive response. True consideration is done with speech, as you restate the statement that you have just heard, clarifying what you have taken it to mean and get some verbal response to you consideration.

To really get some where with a response, you need to formulate your argument so that it is partly open ended and not etched in stone. Some call this wiggle room, but it really is the realisation that for a conclusion to be accepted, you need only be a contributor, not the decision maker. Ultimately, the need for successful dialogue is learning to include and respect the beliefs and position of others and expecting the same in return.


Now, let's consider the long list of things that you can not do to produce a successful dialogue. The first thing that must be avoided is assuming a position of authority and establishing predetermined ground rules for the discussion and its parameters. Secondly, you must speak what you know to be the truth and when someone tells you something you must verify their feelings on the point and determine that they have the total right to their opinion, no matter what it may be. The third standard is to never ever ever reduce any argument or discussion to something that predetermines the opinions so that the participants are forced to defend that which defines them as a person or being.

Paramount to all and every discussion is that it is never over. There is no last word, no final decision, no conclusion that can not be changed, for everything we do is reliant upon what we know and that is always something that can be questioned, for no matter how exalted one may see themselves, they can always learn more. Sometimes, the most insignificant factor can have amazing ramifications in the scheme of things and without an open mind to all possibilities serious mistakes are a certainty.

To reduce errors and misunderstandings it is vital to question and discuss the terms you think you may agree upon, as their meaning. Compromise on what you mean and work from there. Language is the prime tool in a discussion so keep it simple and reduce jargon to a minimum.

If an issue is even worth discussing it will have emotional overtones and you need to deal with those emotions, yours and those with whom you are interacting. Determine those things that get you out of shape emotionally and develop sensitivity to others to notice their sore spots. But to get a meaningful dialogue honestly declare your sore spots and work from there. Emotions are not the enemy of positive constructive discussion they are often the context and motivation that helps to understand what we see as really important.

There is much more to the science and art of meaningful discussion but this is enough for you to digest today. Now to make this process workable, feel free to toss back some ideas that we can put in the next discussion on this topic.

Timothy W. Shire

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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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