Listen to Learn

Under the usual debate-defeat-destroy paradigm, we listen to respond.

With WinSome, we listen to learn.

Here’s why listen-to-respond doesn’t work as we wish.

As our opponent speaks, instead of trying to understand him, we silently accumulate our talking points with which to rebut his assertions. More often than not, we don’t even wait for him to stop talking, but jump right in to refute his flimsy reasoning…if one may even call it reasoning. (I joke, but not far from truth.)

In this habit, we’re well trained by watching the sparring partners on cable news talking over each other. Before the cameras come on — before they hear the first question — they know what they’re going to say. They also know what their opponent will say. They practice zingers designed to disarm, or at least to disorient, the opponent with mockery. There’s a lot happening in that kind of “dialogue,” except for one thing — listening.

Because we already know what the other person will say, we don’t bother to listen. We counter-punch, and then move on to the point we were going to make no matter what the other guy said. We repeatedly move the topic back to our perspective, rather than considering his.

If we ask a question, it’s specifically designed to trip him up or to make him look foolish — or it’s no question at all, but rather a statement posed in the form of a question.

How much learning happens in a “dialogue” like this. Roughly zero.

How many minds change? Precisely zero.

Why do we still do it, or watch others do it? The answer is too embarrassing to state, but I will: We like seeing our ideas win, and we think we win when someone merely gets his talking points in. We like it even better if the talking points are salted with a bit of snark, or if the opponent stumbles as he blurts out his talking points.

But is this actually a win? If so, by what standard?

WinSome strategy calls for listening with the genuine intention to learn what the other person believes.

Why should you listen to learn?

  • You might learn something. Knowledge is good.
  • You might discover more of her motivations, which will help you to empathize and to connect her with your ideas later.
  • The other person might discover she’s not quite sure why she believes what she says she believes. She’s more likely to change her mind by hearing her own voice, than by hearing yours.

It’s been said that Abraham Lincoln became a successful attorney by seeking first to understand opposing counsel’s argument better than the rival lawyer understood it. He was then able to present both sides of the case fairly to a judge or jury, and thus gain more credibility for his own points.

At the very least, by listening to learn, you’ll show respect to the other person. In fact, I would contend that earning her respect may actually be the best possible outcome. It would represent a win in the most crucial phase of the WinSome approach — make a friend.