How to (really) listen when you disagree

Andrea Howe
Category : Weekly tips September 5, 2016

This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

I’m often telling you about the super-smart clients I regularly work with. (There’s a good chance you’re one of them.) I’m also beating the listening drum a lot. One thing I’ve learned in 10+ years of leading workshops is it’s especially challenging for super-smart people to listen to others when they don’t agree with what’s being said.

Here’s the thing: It is entirely possible to validate someone else’s perspective and feelings without agreeing. In fact, you should beware the tendency to conclude that it isn’t, as that’s often a sneaky rationalization for avoiding (1) intimacy and (2) the effort required to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit. And you should make every effort to do exactly that—walk in their shoes for a bit—if you actually care about influencing them.

Here are six examples of phrases you might use to listen actively when you don’t agree:

  1. I see your position: You feel strongly about following the processes that are in place.”
  2. So, from your perspective, it’s only a matter of time before things improve.”
  3. In other words, you’re concerned about investing a lot without being sure of the return.”
  4. It sounds like it’s imperative for you to have the right executive sponsor in place before we move forward.”
  5. From where you sit, change is long overdue.”
  6. In other words, what you’ve experienced is a lot of turmoil, and that‘s been frustrating.”

You get the idea.

If you want to take it to a whole ‘nother level, then add “That makes sense” to the end of each statement above. Why? Because things do make sense over there, and there is a way to see it, if you take the time to look. When said from the heart, “That makes sense” is a powerful expression of validation. It is also particularly disarming in response to an opposing viewpoint.

BONUS TIP: If you ever use these turns of phrase and find yourself distracted, or feeling disingenuous, because you’re worried you’re misleading your audience into thinking you agree with them (even though your words aren’t actually saying that), then try this:

Sam, for the record, I have a very different point of view. And I’m going to set it aside for now so I can really understand yours.”

Then return to 1 through 6 above.

Clear as a bell. Plus you get bonus points for letting them know you’re making a real effort to see things from their vantage point. Then when they’ve said they’re peace, they’re far more likely to return the favor and listen to you.

Isn’t that what you wanted in the first place?

Make It Real

This week, really lean into listening when you don’t agree. Set your agenda aside, quietly or overtly. What’s the payoff for your effort?

Learn More

TAfieldbook
Read about three phrases, each three words long, that are an essential part of any trusted advisor toolkit, or discover how to get the chatter out of your head and into the conversation in Chapter 6 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).

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