Listening When It’s Hard

When we are arguing with another person, odds are we aren’t listening well. We are usually dealing with our intense personal feelings and defending our point of view.

But listening to what’s been said to us can actually be quite helpful.

In my heated exchanges with my wife, for example, I find (often reluctantly, mind you) there is always some validity to her complaints.

If I’m arguing, it is usually because I prefer to focus on the validity of my complaints. But if I’m being honest, I need to accept responsibility for my side of the street.

This is actual good news. When I have looked at my behavior through my wife’s eyes, I’ve always seen is ways I can grow as a husband, father and human being. And that really has resulted in a great deal of fulfilling (and humbling) personal growth.

Our partners, friends, family members, business colleagues – all of them have powerful penetrating wisdom and intelligence. All human beings without exception are powered by this intelligence.

If someone is sharing their views with you, there is, by definition, intelligence and wisdom in what the other person is saying. And if they are sharing it loudly and urgently, it is a good guess there is an important message in what they’re saying.

Now, does this mean taking what they say as gospel? Of course not; that would be relinquishing our own intelligence. Their perspective is necessarily limited and subjective, just the same as all of us.

What I’m pointing to is the value of listening and being open to considering what your partner is saying. Doing that transforms arguments into avenues for our growth.

Doing this requires that we let go of being right and open ourselves up to seeing things in new and different ways. It means recognizing our perspective is always subjective and incomplete.

The problem with arguments is can be hard to set aside our personal feelings to look for the truth and value in what our partner is sharing.  Which is why I am not suggesting that arguments are a good idea in and of themselves. There are more helpful ways to communicate if we can manage it. It’s just sometimes we can’t.

And even then, even in the midst of righteousness and anger, there is an opportunity to listen, to open ourselves up to hearing new things.

That sliver of humility makes space for wisdom to show up.  And that wisdom is the gateway to fresh insight and a better experience.