trev
By now you may know the drill, Trevor Swart from the Positive Thoughts and Conversations blog, Swart Donkey, have a five comment, 100ish word each, conversation around a particular topic one of us brings up and then we share the back and forth with you. This one is all about Listening Better and has a lot to make you think:

Brett: 

So Trev, one thing i’d like to dive into a little deeper is the idea of Listening Better. With the #FeesMustFall movement and events recently in South Africa plus multiple posts on privilege and race stuff, i often suggest to people that they need to Listen first and really get a grasp of what is going on. Do you have any ideas of how we could make that invitation less abtsract and more practical for someone who has maybe read the invitation and is interested but doesn’t know what they’re listening for or how to go about it. For you, when you face someone sharing a point of view or opinion you don’t agree with, do you have any hints or suggestions on how you might still be able to try and understand the person and what they are sharing beyond feeling the need of having to agree with them?

Trev:

I think we need to let go of the idea of agreement for a bit. There needs to be some detached data gathering to start. My cousin in Sydney spoke of a ‘Three Second Rule’. People start offering advice less than three seconds after they ask what you are doing. They don’t assume you have thought of something they have thought of instantaneously. Despite it being ‘what you do’. Enthusiasm is great. But there are lots of smart and emotionally intelligent people out there. I think we need to learn to delay our opinions a little. I also think a good starting point is building rapport. Don’t try argue with people you don’t like. Find a reason to like them first.

Brett:

That ‘Three Second Rule’ is an interesting premise. It smacks of both rudeness and disinterest. Also perhaps the love someone has for hearing their own voice and opinion which we see all over social media all the time. I think that Active Listening can be such an act of love and respect for another person as it gives them the message that they are loved and their opinion is important. Active Listening can be done using clarifying questions [Did i hear you say that… Are you suggesting that…] in the place of my own opinion or ideas [or the advice you mentioned]. Find a reason to like them first? That idea sounds great, but in the speed at which social media conversation happens, i’m not sure always practical. But maybe there is something in there of slowing down how fast we jump on and engage online?

Trev:

I am big on letting other people do the scurrying. There is seldom a reason to rush. Today it is a reality TV star with Cancer. Tomorrow it is Libya. Then Michael Jackson dies. Then it is Syria. Then it is another celebrity on trial. Then Israel and Palestine. I can’t quite keep up with the short term conversation, and so prefer holding back. I like these conversations for example more than the comments section. I way prefer coffee or wine. But I am due to leave for South Africa on Wednesday, so hopefully Social Media is a catalyst for face to face interaction. Speed is over rated. Many of the conversations we have, have been had. Unless we think we can have world changing insights without the benefit of giants’ shoulders (i.e. we are smarter than the cumulative smarts of everyone else), taking things a step or two slower can’t be a bad thing.

Brett:

I hear you on the slowing down and maybe on the picking fights as well? For me at the moment it is the immediacy of events such as #FeesMustFall which is happening across South Africa right now and will not wait for me to go and find some giants. It is the people online who clearly have no understanding or acceptance of white privilege whose minds must be shifted in the now because of the damage that their old way of thinking is impacting both their thoughts and actions. Perhaps there is some middle ground thing where the reading i have been doing on Africa by Africans is helping to inform me in the quiet for these moments in the busy and that’s where learning from the giants comes in.

Trev:

I think it is exciting that we are having the conversations. They seem frightening but we do need to use the momentum to shake us and wake us. You can see why conservatives get nervous though. Small tweaks don’t shake the world. They don’t break things. You can see why liberals get frustrated. The change is too slow. The mud holding people back too thick. Perhaps the starting point to get someone to listen is to listen to them. Once someone feels understood, they will be more inclined to listen. This is where the giants may not be the ones with ideas. They may be the people who venture out of their bubbles, not to win the argument, but to be able to help find out what others are saying in a way that will resonate in their bubble.

Brett:

I think that most people really struggle to listen to an idea that is different to theirs without feeling threatened or feeling like they need to change the other person’s mind “cos obviously what i believe is right” – i think it is a great skill – and one i definitely need to work more at (although certain friends like Sindile on Facebook who comes from a very different starting point but says such profound stuff a lot of the time definitely helps in this regard) – to be able to try and understand why the person you are listening to has the opinion they do [that you disagree with] – typically they’re not an idiot, so what brought them to that place? That is something i’d like to seek to do more. You have been another of those people and i thoroughly appreciate our conversations.

Trev:

There is the heart of it. Sindile is not Christian, but I know he has been to Church with Rich to listen. He has stayed with Rich. I may have a different world view from you but I was once part of your tribe. Rich and I shared many cups of coffee and buckets of KFC. I know your source well! But there is a difference between finding who is right and hearing another story. Two awesome novels can exist side by side. It is only the clashes that tear people down that need to be facilitated. Sometimes I think we all have more in common than we realise. We end up fighting over things that snowball. Like claims to land and generational feuds. Having fluidity between groups with people coming and going can mean the listeners can play the role of ambassadors. We need more ambassadors. We need holey tribes.

Brett:

I hear you. That’s actually a lesson we could do well to learn even just in the church. Denominationalism or Demonisation as i cheekily refer to it in my book, ‘i, church’, tends to increase separation based on differences rather than looking at how much we have in common and celebrating that and working together on that. The same thing in Politics where the nature of ‘getting into power’ requires competition and so parties fight on the differences whereas if everyone decided to work together and focus on a common cause we would be more likely to have more success in large scale collaboration and transformation. That is really sad come to think of it. All of these opportunities to build and learn and grow and yet too often we choose to focus on the differences and build walls and steer clear of. Do you think there is any hope of ever getting past that? It’s great to see it in the relationships you mentioned so maybe that’s the key?

Trev:

Uncomfortable conversations and discomfort are a sign of hope, not of anything to panic about. We should worry when problems aren’t being dealt with. We learn through good stress. Half the reason so many people get injured running is because they spend all day sitting, then when they run they use shoes with all sorts of padding. The feet need a little stress to strengthen up. The shoulders need to be back to be able to breathe properly and run with the right posture. Getting into the habit of uncomfortable conversations is probably like building up to the point where you enjoy running rather than it being a chore. We are used to having clashes and hard chats with people we love. Find me a good relationship where the two don’t occasionally tango? We just need to extend those skills a little wider. Which we are doing.

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Trevor blogs and hosts many other conversations and guest posters on his blog, Swart Donkey, so make sure you check it out.
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