Why won't they listen? How to break through ignorance

George seethed. His boss had pulled the rug from out under a project he was managing, saying, “Sorry George, this isn’t a priority right now. I need you to deliver on the first initiative. I’m giving this project to Sarah.”

George was indignant. No consultation, no warning. Project over. Plus George knew that Sarah was going to make a mess of it. She was way less experienced than him and did not have the insider knowledge with all the stakeholders. George knew he would just end up fielding all her questions and cleaning up the mess afterwards.

But the boss was really putting up the barriers. He actually put his hand up an said, “The decision has been made. Just get on with it.”

When someone else sticks doggedly to their point of view and refuses to hear ours it’s frustrating. Especially if we think the other person is wrong. 

How do we get heard when the other person doesn’t seem to be listening?

It’s the wrong question to start with. 

It sets us up for combat, not collaboration. We see the other person as an obstacle to overcome, instead of a colleague to understand.

When we find ourselves wanting to be heard, to make a point, the first step is to look in the mirror. We need to understand our own perspective first.

Start with feelings, as they drive our reactions. What does not being heard feel like? It might be indignant, frustrated, or hurt. The pain of not being heard is an emotional one. And it has strong roots in our biochemistry.

In her book Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps - How to thrive in complexity, Jennifer Garvey Berger says that one of the main traps of the mind is believing in ‘rightness’. Certainty in our opinion is not a rational thought process, but a feeling process. The trouble with feeling right is that it shuts down other important human traits - openness, curiosity, and wonder.

We are often too busy pushing our truth that we shut down other perspectives.

Our opinion feels good, and it feels like truth. But truth is a slippery and subjective thing. 

There are very few universal truths. This can lead us into a long philosophical discussion about the nature of truth! When you think about it, what do we know absolutely and unequivocally to be true? For a long time we have defaulted to science and empirical evidence for proof of ‘truth’. And that science is continually being debunked and hypotheses proven wrong. We once believed the earth was flat because of the evidence our eyes gave us. As we develop different amplified ways of ‘seeing’, what we once believed as truth erodes.

So if we hold an opinion strongly against someone else’s, we must first release our grip on our tightly held sense of truth. In order to progress the interaction with the other, we look at ourselves first. 

We ask, what if I’m wrong? Is it possible that somebody else sees the situation completely differently, and that they also feel they are right? If so, what might be right, or partially right, about their perspective? How are they constructing their truth? How am I constructing my truth?

Once we explore these questions, shades of grey start to appear. 

How then do we invite somebody else into the greyness when they are black and white in their point of view? 

Ask a question. Be curious. Seek to understand. 

Then ask for their advice. Everyone loves being asked to give advice! It makes us feel special and respected. The advice we seek is how can we expand our perspective. Ask the other person to go through your perspective with you and help find where there is agreement, and where they see things differently.

Here is some language that might help:

“Thank you for sharing your point of view. I was wondering if you could help me out. I want to explore how I see things and would love to get your insight. If I walk you through my point of view, can you share where you agree and where you think I might be missing something, or could add something?”

By seeking to expand our perspective we avoid falling into the rightness trap. When we ask someone else to help shape it, we open alliances rather than shut them down.

When do you get caught up in feeling right? How might you consider another perspective? How did you get your point of view heard?

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Related Articles

How to speak truth to power

3 secrets to creating influence without authority

How to influence without alienating others

Is it better to let sleeping dogs lie?

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