Unless you have been on a secluded beach in the Polynesian Islands for the past year, you are probably aware of the problem we are currently experiencing in the United States, as well as in the workplace and even our families. Conversation is quickly becoming a lost art.
I’m not referring to the simple exchange of ideas between two people or an attempt to convince someone that your opinion is the fountain head of wisdom and knowledge. Instead, I am speaking about two people sitting down and seeking to understand what they each believe and why they believe it. At the basis of the lost art of conversation is our inability to listen.
Professional counselors practice this type of communication better than most people. When someone says, “My spouse doesn’t pay any attention to me and rarely speaks to me.” the counselor reframes the statement and replies, “So you are saying you feel rejected.” The counselor knows that the primary role they play in the dialog is their ability to listen and to understand what their client is saying.
Today, everyone seems to be speaking their mind, but very few people appear to be listening with a strong desire to understand what the other person is saying. If you believe otherwise, watch a conversation between two individuals who have opposing views on any news channel. Both sides often attempt to dominate each other with a barrage of words. They frequently talk over each other, and the conversation grows louder as it moves forward. There is a lot of talking, but not much listening and understanding.
What would happen if the news channel featured two people with opposing views who attempted to understand each other? What if they listened intently to the other person and then reframed the statement by saying, “So what you are saying is ________?” This approach to dialog would be fantastic! However, I doubt that very few people would want to watch this type of conversation. This approach to careful listening and understanding doesn’t sell very well. Viewers prefer to watch and listen to a disagreement that escalates into verbal dominance or physical abuse. They would rather watch two people on a street corner screaming what they believe at each other than watch two people standing on the same street corner having a respectful disagreement.
So how do we create an environment in which others can be heard and understood? Perhaps we should personally adopt the same approach to life as the writer Dallas Willard does when he states, “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”