I’ve been thinking about an idea for Congress. True, it will take them longer to get anything done. Then again, maybe they’ll actually get something done.
It has to do with communication skills, about which I used to conduct corporate seminars. One seminar was devoted to listening or, as we in the biz called it, active listening – different from hearing. One of the ‘active listening’ techniques was to paraphrase the other person, particularly if that other person said something with an emotional overlay.
For example, “You’re saying you’re frustrated because I don’t give clear instructions and then I get impatient with you if you don’t do it the way I want? Is that it?”
Sometimes people would think it was too technique-y. “The other guy already knows what he said, why do I need to say it again?” I can understand feeling silly when you repeat another’s point of view. (See? I’m doing it.) But most people agreed that when they were the person being actively listened to and then paraphrased, it felt great.
Not surprising, because the simple truth is that everyone wants to be understood. (This is not my own idea. Lots of people have said the same thing. Freud. Buddha. Oprah.) Not necessarily agreed with, but understood. There’s a difference. There’s a certain very important person in my life to whom I’ve pointed this out many times. Lovingly, of course. But I digress.
One of the exercises I used in that program was particularly interesting, and here’s where Congress comes in.
I’d pair people up. They’d choose a controversial issue to discuss (from a list I provided), ideally one on which they disagreed. Person A – let’s call her Alicia – would have 1-2 minutes to talk about her views on the subject. (If it weren’t an exercise with rules, Person B, here called Bernard, would be thinking, while Alicia was talking, about how wrong she was. And he’d be planning what he would say as soon as it was his turn. Or even before.)
But in this exercise, when Alicia was done speaking, Bernard could not say what he thought about the topic until he’d restated in his own words, to Alicia’s satisfaction, his understanding of what she’d just said.
For example: “You said that, even though you think guns cause much too much violence in our country, the fact that the constitution says we’re allowed to have them means we just have to put up with them. Or change the constitution. Is that it?” If Bernard didn’t get it right, Alicia had the opportunity to clarify. Then Bernard would re-state.
Then they’d switch roles: Bernard would express his point of view: “Actually, the Second Amendment to the constitution says nothing about private access to firearms, but only protects the citizens’ right to keep and bear arms when they’re serving in a state militia.” Then Alicia would re-state Bernard’s argument to his satisfaction.
It didn’t make them agree with each other. That wasn’t the point. But knowing they’d have to recapitulate the other’s point of view made them really listen to each other instead of biding their time until they got to explain their own “correct” point of view.
It was eye-opening. (Ear-opening?) Like I said, being understood is powerful. Why don’t you try it and see? Let us know how it goes and, of course, we’ll listen to every word you say.
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