A while ago, I posted some material from Ernest Boyle. In his work, he talked about how the first bones that are formed in the human body are the hammer, anvil and stirrup. The inner ear and our ability to hear is developed early in life. In essence, his point was simply that we are born ready to listen, not to speak.
We don’t often talk about listening as a discrete skill. There is a body of work on Dialogic Leadership which focuses on the nature of dialogue as opposed to debate. Isaacs (1999) called debate “unproductive defensiveness” where each side stakes out their turf and argues their point. Two other practices, dialogue and open discussion can only emerge if people are willing to suspend assumptions, not leap to defensiveness and to actively listen to other points of view. Discussion can then result in a deep understanding of participant perspectives and this creates the opportunity to reflect on your own, and other, points of view.
As a leader, you often get people coming to you willing to debate a point. You may also want to debate and defend any particular leadership initiative. However, a moment in time spent working at the “song beneath their words” may help you to further understand their points of view and the real values behind a particular issue. Many times, you can also find that there is much common ground. Working carefully on suspending assumptions and moving to a dialogue and discussion is important groundwork for the conversation ahead.
The next time you face someone who is upset or passionate about a particular issue, take a second to listen first. As you prepare to speak, it will be time well spent.