How to Get Someone to Listen

We were speaking recently with a manager and a staff member who had been “at war with each other.” It’s why we were brought in to help.

The manager was always on edge, wondering how the staff member would evade directives next. The staff person believed he was eternally in trouble with a manager who was out to get him.

At this meeting however, one of our last together, they told us that they were now able to have a difficult conversation respectfully.

What happened?

Firstly, they learned a model of speaking with each other that enabled them to hear each other at a deeper level. That is magic in and of itself. How often do we only listen to our own perspective and voice, hearing the other but not really taking in what they are saying? Something completely different can happen when we stop to really absorb what the other is saying, through a more active listening process that enables us to sit in that other person’s perspective.

We asked these two people, who had been in conflict for a few years before we got involved, what they were doing differently now that they were getting along.

Each of them said, in their own way:

“Through talking respectfully with each other, we’ve discovered that we both have the common interest of our organization at heart and we both see each other as dedicated to that vision.”

That capacity, to understand each other and the greater common goal, is called “Inspiring a Shared Vision” in the leadership literature. When people can join together in a shared vision of the future, you are bringing out more of the leader in you. The shift can feel like literally changing your physical stance from pointing at the other person as your problem to pointing together to a positive vision of the future.

It’s pretty powerful stuff!

It might sound trite but taking time to know the other person more deeply, by understanding what matters to them, makes all the difference.

The trick is that there are many barriers to listening and seeking understanding, including:

  • being distracted by wanting to convince the other person of your perspective
  • intimidated by what seems like opposite perspectives
  • not being fond of the other person or perhaps actively disliking them
  • preferring to not deal with the situation at all as it takes too much time, energy, etc.

But, there is usually a cost to not getting along…

Anyone can stop an argument. You simply stop talking and focus on listening to understand. You summarize what you hear to confirm what you’ve understood and demonstrate to the other person your new understanding.

This move wins you a hearing and you will find a space to explain your perspective. It’s not easy, but it is quite simple, and if you are determined you can do it.

That’s how you get someone to listen. You listen first!

This process of listening to understand then sharing your own perspective deepens a conversation. The new understandings discovered by both of you brings in more information which allows for wiser decisions and surfaces innovative, creative and inspiring futures.

It is, when you follow that process for your conversation, really that simple. It’s not necessarily easy and we won’t do it every time, but it does work. We’ve seen it time and again in our own lives and in the lives of our clients.

The story above is only one example, although a dramatic one!

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