The prospect of confronting anyone, especially a senior, is stressful and for some people, plain terrifying. Our maxim, “I give and receive feedback” is much easier said than done. It takes courage to give feedback, and it takes courage to receive feedback.
If, while you are listening to feedback or a view from another person, you are busy formulating a response to that person, you are, by definition, not listening. You are shutting that other person, or that other opinion, or view, out. You are already in telling mode. You are not listening. Maybe sometimes you even start to respond before that other person has finished explaining, or if you are more introverted – you simply tune out.
The curious thing is that we all know when someone else is doing this to us, but are not so conscious of when we are doing it to others. Our minds are so full of thoughts that they sometimes drown out what other people are trying to tell us. We might not even hear what the other person is saying, let alone genuinely consider it.
One of my friends jokingly said recently, “Everything that you say before ‘but’ is plain bull dust.”
“I am really sorry for what I have done, but ………”
“I agree with you, but ………”
“I understand where you are coming from, but …….”
The prospect of being cut off, ignored or diminished in some way by another person, especially someone senior to you, is demoralising and energy-sapping. It is no wonder that some people just start to withdraw, or in South Africa, even to burn tyres or schools or trains or busses. It is just horrible to feel that no-one will listen.
It is a moral duty to listen. It is respectful to listen, to let someone else finish, to ask questions, to clarify, to be curious.
“Why do you think that?”
“What is it that makes you believe that?”
Only intelligent people have the ability to suspend their own ideas or beliefs for long enough to consider another viewpoint. Mostly this needs to be for a minute or two only. So why do we find this so damned difficult?
Why is it so hard to listen? Why is it that ignorant people are so confident in their own beliefs, and smart people have all of the doubts? It is because smart people have the ability to suspend their own views for a while. They can at least consider the position of the other. Ignorant people seem determined to stay ignorant.
We can improve the flow and quality of information and thinking in Tarsus (and the world) by learning not to defend. We can drop the use of the word “but.”
Never say “but”.
Rather say, “That is interesting. Why do you think that?”
Rather say, “Can you give me an example?”
If the other person is talking rubbish, they will often find themselves out if you remain curious, and if you keep listening. People with one-sided, biased views often find themselves apologizing for their short-sightedness or inconsiderateness if you let them finish what they are saying without judging them or trying to defend a contrary view. They run out of steam.
If the other person is just possibly not talking rubbish, you will discover valid new thoughts and ideas. You will be able to change your views – sometimes without the other person even knowing that you just did that. You will add to your knowledge, you will become smarter. You will grow. Your levels of stress will drop. You will be happier.
Miles Crisp is the Tarsus Technology Group CEO