I was kicking some ideas around with my daughters today, and one had a perspective very different from that of her sister. They love each other a lot, their values are very similar, they have shared so much together, AND they just see the world through completely different lenses. They’re the kind where relatives say, “It’s hard to believe they came from the same family?”
They were debating a point about college and growing up, and I felt the temperature in the room rising. Oh, it was a long way from the boiling point, but it was getting hotter. Jennifer had walked into the room, and the pace was quickening. I said to Jennifer and the one daughter who was questioning the other, “what if instead of debating this point we just try to understand what she is saying? What if we switch from discussion to inquiry about how she feels and what she means by it, instead of talking about how we think she understands it, or how we think she should understand it?” It really worked! We all understood her point, and now that she wasn’t being pushed (and therefore defensive), she could begin to see (all by herself) that there was another way she could look at the issue.
I was like the proverbial blind squirrel who occasionally finds a nut. What I wish I did more often is to remember to practice the power of genuine inquiry. So often, we think we know what someone is saying. So often, we want to correct their view before we truly understand it. So often, when we don’t understand, people respond with defensiveness and aggression. Then, the heat goes up, and as the heat goes up, the light goes down. People say more and listen less and the vicious cycle speeds up.
We’re pretty smart. We think we get it. We are in a hurry – who isn’t? We say our part. We defend our view. We’re more into being right than understanding. Inquiry through good listening is like Karate, a good golf swing, or great teamwork: there is a sweet efficiency that follows. Trying less yields more. There’s smoothness as things work themselves out, as the gift of listening-with-trust, allows the other person to speak with candor and completeness. At St. John’s on Sunday Fr. Joe said something about time with God, which also applies well to the way we listen to family, co-workers, and even our adversaries, “Quit doing something, and just stand there!”
Care to join me in opining a little less and inquiring a little more? Inquire more to . . .
Lead with your best self!