Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Speaking “To” Versus Speaking “With”

Do you see other participants in a conversation as and audience for your ego? Or do you listen with intent?

Quite a while ago I came to the hard conclusion that I was often seeing myself as the main person involved in the conversation. I became concerned that I wasn’t listening to the other person in a way that was meaningful. Instead of trying to understand the meaning of their words and their feelings behind the words, I was listening for key words that I could use to jump in and speak my opinion.

What I do now is to try and follow what the other person says, repeating back to them in my own words and with my own experiences in order to ensure that I understand what they are saying and how they feel about it. This creates strong links with the person you are conversing with, and even if you don’t have an experience that is similar to them you can still show that you value what they say.

The trick is to really value what they say. If you fake it, they will know. Two things that are helpful to remember in this “real” valuing:
  1. You don’t have to value something that is not valuable to you. There is a difference between understanding what someone else values and valuing it yourself. You will not typically form any lasting friendship with someone in whom you do not share much in the way of values. In practice, there are very few people who do not share something with others though. We are all human and seeking answers on one level or another.
  2. Someone may be further ahead, or further behind you, in their experiences. You can see your role in listening to them as an encourager to keep them inspired, or you can draw inspiration from them. It can be hard to listen to someone excited about something you discovered yourself some years ago, but if you apply the right mindset to the situation you can forge a positive link with the person.

At the heart of all of this is love. Do you care enough for others to take the time to listen to them? Or would you rather say your piece and then move on to the next person - cold marketing style that is no different from email spam that nobody wants to engage with?

“To” is a one-way process.

“With” is communication together, on a journey, sharing strengths and overcoming weakness.

Even if you see this as splitting semantic hairs, I hope you can see the value of real listening and collaborative communication.